Presentations: It’s the Audience – Stupid: Quality Content
Those who deliver presentations (speeches, product pitches, investment solicitations, job interviews), and that includes all of us in business, should note a New York Times observation made during the 2008 presidential campaign after Obama prevailed in the duel with Clinton for the nomination. Columnist Frank Rich said of that night’s speeches, “Mrs. Clinton referred to herself by the first-person pronoun 64 times… Mr. McCain did so 60 times… (and) Mr. Obama settled for 30.” Rich was saying McCain and Clinton focused more on themselves than their listeners while Obama, even in victory, concentrated on the audience.
Although Rich was primarily making political points he cracked the door on a critical component of most successful presentations. The audience is more important than the speaker. In James Carville vernacular, “It’s the audience, stupid!”
As a civic club member I see many speeches and estimate 60% dwell mostly on the speaker and not those in the seats. As a consultant, likewise many presentations have the same shortcoming. How about you? How many presentations directly and clearly affect you and merit your attention?
Try this test from the National Speakers Association. Whether it is your presentation or someone else’s, count the number of times the word “I” or “we” is used versus the number of “you’s.” You’s should dominate. If they don’t then the presentation likely benefits the speaker more than the listener. Not good.
Sales professionals know that content should benefit the audience. Good example: “This service should reduce your overhead and increase profits.” Bad example: “We’ve been in business for 25 years and have many happy clients.” The benefits of the service/product matter more than the features. The same holds for speeches.
Civic clubs often invite nonprofit operators to speak, saying, “Tell us about your organization and what you do.” If the nonprofit does precisely that then it can be a mistake. The audience really wants to know how the organization impacts them and the community. Good: “We have helped break the grip of drug abuse on many of our citizens and reduced crime in your neighborhoods.” Not so good: “We were founded in 1950, we just reorganized ourselves, and we are proud of the awards we have won.”
Exceptions. Sometimes a leader talks about his organization and provides an “inferred benefit.” An example would be an economic development official telling a business audience about recruiting successes. Another exception is investment pitches. If the purpose is to attract money then the audience sure as heck wants to hear how the company intends to operate. Speaker dynamics are another exception. Some presenters are so entertaining that they’d amuse the audience while reading the phone book. Their performance is the benefit.
Job interviews are not an exception to the audience benefit rule. Some interviewees think their mission is to talk about themselves. In fact they should connect the dots between their background and the potential employer’s wants and needs. Example: I once worked with an executive competing with five others for a prestigious higher position in a global corporation. He was smart as a whip but when we videotaped a mock promotion interview there was no center of gravity to it. He answered questions but didn’t move the conversation in a useful direction. So we re-calibrated him around his goals for the company and made sure he interjected them. Now, in the actual discussions he would make it clear how the company would benefit from promoting him. He did it. They chose him over the other five competitors.
So, the next time you’re asked to present for any reason, remember those listening. Ask yourself, “What’s in it for them? Why should they care?” Again, “It’s the audience, stupid!”