Doing a presentation without thinking of your audience is like starting a love letter with “To whom it may concern”.
Even if you’re trying to convey the same messages to different audiences, you will be much more effective if your presentation is personalized to the people you are trying to engage.
Whenever I’m asked to speak, I ask a lot of questions about the audience; what’s the age range, the gender makeup, experience, background and more. I want to be able to form a mental picture of the people I’ll be speaking to so that I can bring stories and examples they will understand and enjoy.
Then, I start at the end of my presentation. I think about the audience and decide what I want them to be thinking or doing when my talk is over. I set a goal. I imagine their acceptance of a concept or an idea that they hadn’t considered before. Everything in my presentation must lead to that conclusion and the more my material is relevant to my audience, the more persuasive I will be.
If I’m speaking to employees of a specific company or organization I try to understand its work and look for recent examples either directly from the group or from their field of interest. If the company works in aviation for example I will illustrate my points with examples taken from that industry.
Even including recent events of significance to the audience is useful. Right after an election or a major news event, I might make reference to it where appropriate to my audience.
If I can’t find out much about my audience, I will often start my talk by asking them a few short questions. Someone will likely tell me of a key event or situation that I can reference back to throughout my talk.
So to go back to my imaginary love letter, imagine how effective it would be if you waxed on about your partner’s beautiful brown eyes . . . and they were blue.
The Academy Awards last night tried (with limited success) to eliminate the laundry list style of acceptance speeches where the winners rattle off dozens of names of people we’ve never heard of including their hair-dresser and dog-walker.
Hearing someone recite a list is boring, even if your name appears somewhere on it. Much more memorable was Sandra Bullock’s story about her mom who wouldn’t let her ride in cars with boys and made her practice acting every day.
Yet, event planners and corporate communicators are still designing events that have more to do with letting people talk than they do with communicating to an audience.
For your next corporate event, why not take two lessons from the Oscars to design something more engaging.
First, use video. The short clips of films interspersed throughout the awards show kept people’s interest and reminded the audience what it was that they were there to celebrate. But don’t think you need the special effects of Avatar for your event. Overreaching on a limited budget will end up looking cheesy.
Instead, follow television’s example. Reality shows are flooding the airwaves because they are cheap to make and so is a short documentary-style video about your company’s operations. Have it produced by someone with network TV experience and it will look like it was on last night’s news.
Secondly, develop a corporate narrative and teach your spokesperson to tell stories. A long list of corporate achievements will not have anywhere near the impact as a personal story of accomplishment. Yes, there are people to be thanked but that’s what banners and brochures are for,
Telling stories is a way to connect with people. It provides a memorable and jargon-free way to let an audience know what you do. And a good story will be remembered long after your so-called “world-class achievements” are forgotten.
In a nutshell, you can make your event more memorable if you treat it like a television show rather than a corporate soapbox.