April 15, 2010

What's best for the audience?



While discussing audience engagement strategies the other day, a client suggested that these strategies might not work for her kinds of audiences, especially at scientific conferences, where there are standard protocols. We were speaking specifically about opening a presentation with something other than the obligatory five minutes of thank yous and credentials, instead using perhaps a question or a story to kick things off.

My question is this: Are audiences really all that different from each other? Yes and no.

In terms of their knowledge of and interest in your topic, of course they vary. The audience at a scientific conference is going to be very different from the audience at a food trade show. Different industries, different backgrounds, different demographics, different age groups, different cultures.The list goes on.

However, you can generally assume that all audiences want to be engaged. All audiences want information that's relevant to their lives and work. All audiences want to stay awake and absorbed in your presentation.

In that sense, an engaging opening is what your audience wants. No, they don't want five minutes of thank yous. They could not care less about who you want to acknowledge. They've already read your bio in the conference program (in fact, that's why they are attending your session), so they don't need to know any more about your credentials -- unless that information is particularly relevant to something covered in your presentation and can be woven into your material seamlessly.

I always come back to this question, and I asked it of my client: "What's best for the audience?" Not "What's best for maintaining the status quo?"

If you do what's best for the audience, I guarantee that you and your message will stand out in a sea of sameness, safeness and predictability.

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3 comments. Please add yours! :

florian said...

Lisa, your post feels like you were using my mouth to speak - or in that case my fingers to write. It's like we were having twin opinions. I always say you could pitch for a boring project in front of a boring bunch of public administration staff. And still they want to be entertained. Even if their indifferent faces might tell you the opposite. Why did Huxley write Brave New World? It was a fact in the 20ies and it is a fact today: people, your audience wants to be entertained. Period.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thank you for your comment, Florian. Indeed, we spend many hours in our lives seeking entertainment through hobbies, reading, TV, movies, sports, etc. At work we entertain ourselves through secret online shopping and Facebook. Why would presentations be any different?

Fred E. Miller said...

Got Point!

Always be client centered. It's not about you, it's about them.

WIFM is the channel they are all listening to. What's In It For Me? Let them know that you are focus on them increasing their knowledge about something or learning new information.

The Opening of your talk is where you 'Tell them what you're going to tell them'.

Thanks!

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