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How to get into your audience's skin

Presentations are all about people. So it makes sense that every inspiring presentation starts not with the content or the presenter in mind, but with the people it was intended for – the audience.

Carolyn Tate, a marketing guru and friend, once asked a financial planner who his audience was and he replied: “Anybody with a pulse, really.” The last thing we ever want to hear you say is your presentation is for everybody. That is the only way to ensure it will fail.

There are three questions you must be able to answer before you begin any presentation:

Who is your audience?

What motivates them?

What do they want from my presentation?

Research your audience. It doesn't matter if your audience is made up of your internal team that you know well or a bunch of strangers – you must still be able to identify what their common problems and frustrations are. This is when you start to live in your audience’s skin. You start to see the world like they do.

A senior leader at a large financial organisation was presenting to different levels of employees on a major change initiative, touting it as better way to do business, gain a competitive edge and improve shareholder value. She admitted that most people would be there because it was compulsory.

Thinking about it more, she realised that the change initiative would make everyone’s work and life so much easier. She also discovered she’d been pitching the project at too high a level so it sounded lofty in what it could achieve. While the project excited her, it was absolutely meaningless for her audience. With this new insight, she rewrote her presentation with the angle “I’m here to make your life and work easier.” Consequently, she enjoyed a much more positive response.

Why is walking in your audience’s shoes, or living in their skin, so important? People need to feel you understand them first.

As Stephen Covey says in his best seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, seek to understand before being understood. Show your audience you understand them first and they will be open to connecting and understanding you.

Of course, this needs to be done in an authentic, genuine and sincere way. Nothing stinks more than the feeling that someone’s faking it. Your audience will sense this and immediately be turned off. 

But on the other hand, nothing is a bigger turn-on for an audience than feeling ‘This presenter really gets me’. 

Yamini Naidu

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Yamini Naidu is a global thought leader in storytelling and business communication. She is a director at yamininaidu.com.au, and was previously a director at One Thousand & One, a company she co-founded in 2004.