is the forth in a seven-part series of articles on presentation
skills designed for persons who don't make or supplement their living
from professional speaking.
4 of 7: The Audience…
1 | Part
2 | Part
3 | Part
4 | Part
5 | Part
6 | Part
first step in this phase of the process is to analyze the needs and
determine the expectations of the audience. Imagine that new neighbors
move in next door and you invite them over for dinner. When everyone's
seated, you bring out the biggest, juiciest steaks they've ever seen.
Then they break the news that they're vegetarians.
To say the least. The same holds true when you're speaking to a group...you
have to learn something about their "appetites" and "dining" preferences.
What are their needs? Why did they invite YOU and what do they expect
from you? What are their knowledge, skill and experience levels? What
are their attitudes and feelings toward you and the subject matter?
What are the demographics of the group?
example, if you were asked to make a presentation on how insurance rates
are made, would the structure, content and delivery of your presentation
differ if the group consisted of building contractors as opposed to
actuaries? I actually saw such a presentation made to a homebuilders
association where the presenter used slides explaining linear regression
analysis in the trending of loss costs. It would have taken buckets
to catch all the drool that spilled from the lips of the glassy-eyed
the tone of your presentation would depend on whether the audience was,
in general, uninformed, apathetic, hostile, favorable, or mixed. As
we'll discuss later, my experience has been that, unless you are delivering
a funeral eulogy, humor (if used judiciously) is your most valuable
ally. This analysis stage is critical...if not done properly, you will
too often find yourself in a situation for which you are totally unprepared.
you've established what you believe to be the expectations of the audience,
you'll need to arouse their curiosity both before and during your presentation.
Therefore, I recommend that you select an attention-getting title for
your presentation. For example, I used to do a seminar on insurance
policy interpretation for independent insurance agents that I could
have called "How to Interpret an Insurance Policy." Instead, I called
it "How to Battle an Adjuster...and Win Every Time!" Agents loved the
title! Needless to say, claims reps and adjusters didn't (but that's
another story). Therefore, I subsequently changed the title to a more
politically correct "How to Win Friends...and Influence Adjusters."
This title still aroused curiosity, but was a little more politically
correct and a lot less offensive to the claims reps that I dearly love
regard to generating curiosity during the presentation itself, you'll
want to start out with a dynamite opener to get the audience's attention
and make them eager to hear the rest of what you have to say. During
the program, you'll want to liven things up by being creative. For example,
when I discuss the pollution exclusion in a liability insurance seminar,
the overhead I use has a bullet that says, "Martinis, potato chips,
Heather Locklear, and peanut butter sandwiches." When I get to the discussion
of personal injury and advertising injury, one of my overhead bullets
says, "Marijuana, Mickey Mouse and Music City U.S.A." What do these
terms mean? Don't they arouse your curiosity (even if you know nothing
about insurance!)? That's the idea.
leaving this topic, I'd like to leave you with three maxims of public
speaking from the perspective of your audience...
#1: "Speaking is show business!"
never, ever forget the following truism: Speaking is show business!
Again, unless you're delivering a funeral eulogy, announcing a corporate
"downsizing" to a group of the downsized, or speaking at a similar somber
event, people want to be entertained as well as informed. Even if you're
making an ethos-based presentation, remember the words of Marshall McLuhan:
"Education has to be fun, and fun has to be education." In my
seminar, "Presentation Skills for the 'Unprofessional' Speaker," I examine
this premise within the context of what I call "The Jolson Principle"
which is: (1) give 'em what THEY want, (2) give 'em some
more, (3) leave 'em wanting more.
#2: "Be mediocre!"
this doesn't mean that you have to be another Woody Allen or Sammy Davis,
Jr., nor do you have to be a clone of Zig Ziglar or Tony Robbins. Keep
in mind, within our context of "unprofessional" speaking engagements
(meaning you're not making a living at this stuff), the following: Your
audience will most likely be thrilled if you're just not boring!
an amazing statement, but absolutely 100% accurate...your audience will
be satisfied if you aren't boring. If you're speaking at a Kiwanis Club
meeting, a technical symposium or some other function in which the presenters
are essentially "unprofessional" speakers, the audience does not normally
have very high expectations. In fact, in most cases, they expect to
be bored to death. Therefore, you can significantly exceed their expectations
simply by not being boring. If, in fact, you're actually entertaining,
they'll love you! Believe it or not, before long you will have attendees
that will be willing to PAY you to speak!
#3: "Your audience doesn't care..."
third and final observation on this topic is the following (and this
may hurt a little, but it's true): Your audience doesn't care about
YOU...they care about themselves! As David Burpee of the Burpee
Seed Company said, "I always try to remember that people really aren't
interested in my seeds. They're interested in their gardens, their tomatoes,
and their lawns."
to give 'em what THEY want.
1999-2000 by William C. Wilson, Jr.
All Rights Reserved.