Know Your Audience

3 Things to Consider Before Stepping Up to the Mic

Audience size and type of presentation are important factors before preparing a talk, creating visuals and determining the points you want to convey with a clear take-away. For big stage keynotes, it’s challenging to pinpoint the audience in a few bullet points. The best you can do is optimize for the majority and figure out common denominators so your message hits home, in a compelling and inspiring way.

“Big” stages, (virtual or physical) are daunting. Having executed multi-day, multi-stage events and worked closely with iconic leaders, practice definitely helps. Fundamentally, it comes down to authenticity, credibility and a good amount of preparation, which starts with knowing your audience as much as possible. Relatability is so important and it will leave your listeners wanting more, and hopefully some next steps.

Presenters at high visibility events often come across as too polished. It's difficult to strike the balance because you want to convey your human-ness, share wisdom and knowledge and keep the audience full attention, from start to finish. If you’re a natural joker, it helps with ice-breakers or sprinkled throughout but if you’re not, please don’t try as it can land awkwardly. Of course using humor will depend on the subject so it may be inappropriate.

We’ve all got our favorite TED, or TEDx talk that left us feeling inspired or with great ideas to chew on. One of my old-time faves; Sir Ken Robinson, who sadly passed away earlier this year when I found myself reminiscing his 2006 talk about how schools squash kids' creativity with rigid, formal test scoring. Given the current global pandemic, nearly all academic institutions are rethinking how we teach and learn. Besides that heady topic, Ken’s talk was interesting because his pace, tone, emphasis plus ability to engage the audience is second-to-none. Ken made it look so easy and we all know it is not. Most of us are unlike Ken who was very much at ease but he didn’t even use visuals. That’s extremely difficult.

Perhaps your next presentation is not a keynote or TED Talk but a meeting with a smaller group, yet critical because it involves decision makers you need to impress. The stakes are high, albeit different. Maybe it’s to close a deal with an account you’ve been working for nine months and you’re now down to the final few meetings. You want to crush it and not let the team down.

Who’s in the room? What are they like? What are their hot-buttons? Are they chatty or quiet, easy or hard to read? We’ve all heard the term “read the room”, which is now even harder in our virtual world.

read the room

1. Read the room

All your audience questions pretty much boil down to Demographic, firmographic, and behaviorgraphic traits. That’s a lot of ‘phics’ and if you drew a venn diagram, you’d have lots of overlapping circles. The point is, try to know as much as you can about the persona types in attendance. Depending on the nature of your product or service, you may want to know things such as A-type personality, go-getter or more laid-back, happy-go-lucky so you can adjust tone.

Besides some of the easier aspects like; geo location, language, company size, industry, pain-points and ability to spend, you will want to try getting inside the hearts and minds, which is much harder. Buyers often hold their cards close to the vest and so it’s difficult to understand true feelings or thoughts. Picking this up along your relationship building journey is an obvious best-practice but it’s worth considering all of that while preparing for the important meeting and also sharing with any colleagues in attendance so everyone is up to speed. Which brings us to...

room temperature

2. Room Temperature

Once you know how many are in attendance, their roles, functions, responsibilities, power position and other relevant info, you now want to know how friendly and inviting they will be, or in other words, the room temperature.

Is this a welcoming group or better described as portraying a medium-ish interest level. Worse, it could be ice cold. The real question is, how hard will you have to work to win them over. If you’ve ever watched the popular HBO drama series MadMen, you recall how Don Draper would literally command the room and convert naysayers into screaming loyal fans, eating out of his hands as they became slowly convinced of his brilliant concepts and catchy slogans, reminiscent of 1960’s advertising. Ah the good ole days when you had physical meetings with food and drinks delivered.

Of course Don’s mad skills and calculated flow won the day but let’s be honest, we’re not all like Don. However, he always knew the room’s temperature before walking in so you are as prepared as possible and can take the curve-ball questions that come your way. Adjusting tone, mannerisms, how you respond and answer questions is all part of getting in the right headspace to address what may come up.

maximize time

3. Max Your Time: Consider the before, during and after

Once you’ve assessed the type of attendees and the room ‘temperature’, you need to understand the best path to connect in order to drive the result you desire and continue to the next step.

Consider how to maximize your allotted time. If everyone doesn’t have the same level of knowledge, consider how you can bring all up to speed, so you don’t waste the meeting time. What actions can you take beforehand? This may be a quick email with a link to third party research or an article that’s a good backgrounder. Maybe send the full presentation ahead with a note such as, this is the deck I’ll go through and I’d like to get your eyes on it, in case I’m missing anything. This will build trust and convey humility but timeliness is the most important.

Maximize the meeting time by taking notes with important questions and follow up in a timely way. If you get side-tracked with questions, take a moment to check on time-keeping and ask if the group wants to spend the time on questions or go through the full presentation. Following a script is challenging as your attendees may want the meeting to go in a different direction. Flexing based on your audience desires is a skill worth developing.

Post meeting, do all the necessary follow-ups. Share the deck, even the meeting notes, answer all questions with a personal note to each attendee, especially if they have different needs.

greatest presenter ever

With the combination of a great presentation deck, good timekeeping and directly addressing the audience, you have the recipe to succeed. Sure, you may not be the next Don Draper or Sir Ken Robinson captivating the room with laughs but if you focus on your audience first, you have every opportunity to crush it and do a mic drop afterwards (with style, of course ;-).

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