It’s presentation day. You’ve spent weeks researching and writing. You’ve logged nearly countless hours revising and practicing. You’ve chosen the perfect outfit and have arrived in enough time to get the room set up. You hear voices approaching in the hall, and you know it’s almost time. The door opens and your audience members begin to arrive. You are ready, because you know that once those chairs are filled, you’ll be able to confidently answer the only question that really matters to your audience: “What’s in it for me?”
An audience-centered approach to speaking is nothing new. Speakers have been analyzing their audiences since the days of the famous orators Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. But the importance of keeping your audience’s needs in mind is one of those lessons you can’t hear too frequently. These three tips can help you prioritize your audience’s needs as you prepare and present.
Don’t Sell, Serve
From the moment you know you are going to be giving a presentation, before you even begin researching or writing, you should aim to make an important mindset shift from selling to serving. Here’s what Small Business Trends has to say about the shift:
“In 2010, Trendwatching.com came out with a trend brief that highlighted ‘serving is the new selling.’ They put a name on … the trend shift in sales and marketing and now it is the norm in business, social media and content marketing … When we educate, help and inspire others with our experience and expertise, we are building the foundation for trust … Serving and helping builds trust like nothing else.”
Nearly all presentations have an underlying goal of selling (whether it’s product or ideas), but a serving mindset allows you to change your focus from why the presentation is important for you, to why it is important for your audience. Begin your preparation by asking what you can offer instead of what you can gain.
Answering the question “What’s in it for me?” is a form of audience analysis—crafting your message for a particular group of people. It’s looking at your content and asking, “where is the value in this from my audience’s perspective?” Is it expanded knowledge? Expanded perspective? Cost savings? Time savings? The feeling of belonging to something? Investing in something worthwhile? You should be able to put into words what value your message might have for the audience. The University of Maryland suggests answering the following questions:
- What does my audience already know?
- What does my audience need?
- Why do they need it?
- How can I help them meet that need?
Once you can clearly articulate where the value lies for your audience, you need to communicate that to them.
Weave It Throughout
Often speakers will spend a little time in the beginning of their presentation talking about why their message is important or valuable for the audience. Traditionally we call this a “tie to the audience.” However, if you are only addressing the value for the audience once during your presentation, you are missing valuable opportunities to show how your message intersects with the audience’s needs.
Research shows that we learn and retain information better when it is both repeated and spaced out a little over the course of a message. The audience needs to be reminded at multiple points in your presentation why your information matters and how it specifically affects them. It should be a thread of connection (tying the message to the audience) that runs throughout.
Shift your mindset to what you can offer, understand your audience’s values, and appeal to those values repeatedly throughout your presentation. When you prioritize your audience and their needs, you are bound to see an increase in your message’s worth. In other words, everyone wins.
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