March 19, 2013

Do you have a parental attitude toward your audience?

As speakers, we often approach our audiences like children. We know what's best for them. We know what they need, and we're going to deliver it to them.

Sometimes we think we know what they need more than they know what they need.

And you know what? Maybe we're right some of the time. After all, I'm pretty sure most of my audiences need training on how to create more effective PowerPoint presentations.

But this "parental" attitude (or "patronizing" attitude, if we're going to be honest...) does not serve the audience.

Your audience may not know what they need -- but they know what they want. Which are frequently two different things.

Using the PowerPoint example again: I've spent waaaayyyy too much time in presentations with horrible PowerPoint slides, packed densely with information no one can read, or loaded with typos, misspellings, juvenile clipart, poorly contrasting colors that make the slide impossible to view, and more. And you have, too. Yet how many speakers are really making an effort to make their PowerPoints better? Not enough.

Because they don't think they need it. 

They don't know they need it. 

And if they don't know they need it, they don't need it. 

Do you get my point? They are the experts on what they need. Just like we all are experts on what we need, in both our personal and business lives.

What they need and what we think they need do not always coincide.

However, your audience does know what they want, and this is something you can find out in advance.

If you're speaking to an organization, create an online survey asking questions about what your audience already knows and would like to know more about, and have your organizer share it via e-mail.

If you don't have this luxury, for example, when you're speaking at a conference, you can get some basic demographics and data from the conference organizer about who's attending, and then make sure to chat up your audience members as they arrive. Ask a couple of questions at the beginning and throughout the presentation to get a better idea of what your audience cares about.

If you're creating presentations based on what you think the audience needs, you might be getting it wrong, even if -- technically -- you're getting it right. If you build presentations around material that your audience does not find relevant, you will not succeed in changing their attitudes or behavior, no matter how right you are.

People don't always know what they need, and they're not always ready for what they need, but they do know what they want. Make the effort to find out what they want, and you might also just get lucky enough to give them what they need.

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3 comments. Please add yours! :

Peter Billingham said...

So true! Your about what they need and what they think they need is spot on. There is no point trying to convince of a need to change it has to be a want. The audience perspective is always the place to start. Excellent post and great reminder. Love the email survey ideas as well. Thanks

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Peter! It's taken me a long time to come around to this point of view. It just makes sense that we experts should know what people need. ;-) But when I put myself in the audience's shoes, I know I've got it backward.

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