Audience Awareness

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Recently I attended two presentations, invited as an observer with one other professional. The organization had sent out a request for proposals, which a number of firms had answered. The person who asked me to attend had narrowed the field to two potential venders.

Typically, I'm on the sales side of the table, so I'm always interested to see others sell. In these two cases, I noticed how little the presenters from either company paid attention to the people in the room.

When you're presenting information to an audience—especially when you're trying to persuade it of something--you absolutely must be audience aware.

Don't Sell as You'd Like to be Sold

When the firms reviewed their processes and proposals, what they discussed and how they presented the information was clearly how they'd like to receive it.

Common fallacy.

Every good sales class will teach you to discern the buyer's preferences and to present accordingly. Consider my last car purchase:

  • Dealership One: The salesperson wanted to chat about my job and my family and my hobbies and on and on—and then he exhausted me with details about the car. I wasn't there to make a friend and I'd already done my research. I drove the car and he drove me nuts.

  • Dealership Two: The salesperson asked me what I wanted to see, had the car in question brought around for a test drive, and we talked money. No chit chat, no tedious details, nothing beyond necessary information and the transaction. Sold.

Someone else would have liked salesguy number one. That's how she likes to be sold. Yet the second guy intuited how I like to purchase and catered to me. Done deal.

Ask Questions

The easiest way to discern how people like to be sold is to have them tell you. How? Ask questions.

Never walk into a presentation or sales session and talk at people. Ask what they want to know and how they'd like to get the information. In fact, you can ask some of these questions in the exchange required to set up the meeting.

Then you can craft your presentation to cater to their preferences.

Establish Who's in the Room

Prior to presenting, determine who will be in the room. If you can't get the information in advance, take a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting for introductions. Learn names, titles, companies, and roles. Get contact information so that you can send a follow-up note after the meeting.

More important than the afternote, though, is the power you gain from knowing what your audience may already understand about your subject matter, the roles they’re likely to play in making a decision, and what stakes they have in the game.

With this information, you can better tailor you presentation, your questions, and your answers to their questions.

Speech classes and writing classes and sales classes and pretty much every type of training that guides people in swaying others will demand that students pay attention to their audiences.

Yet people clearly have forgotten.

Reminder: It's not about you. It's about them. Pay attention to your audience, folks.