By any objective standard, you had the credentials, the track record and the facts on your side for your presentation. But maybe you’re not making the connection with the audience that wins you the business. If one of your presentations has been less successful than you expected, you might benefit from reconsidering your perspective. Imagine a triangle where each of the angles represents one of the three points of view (POV) that can drive a presentation---that of the speaker, the message or the audience. Your focus on one of these POV’s determines how you design, develop and deliver the presentation. More importantly, it determines your chances for success. Before making the case for an audience-centered approach, let’s consider the problems inherent in prioritizing the alternatives.
The Speaker-Centered Approach. Focusing on the speaker POV exacerbates any speech anxiety the presenter already experiences. Making the speech primarily about the speaker heightens nervousness and erodes confidence. Conversely, a presenter who is overly confident can appear arrogant or patronizing. When you’re most concerned about maintaining or enhancing your own performance, both the message and the audience suffer. A presentation focused on the speaker is evident in overuse of language such as “I” and “me” instead of “you” and “we.” Additionally, a focus on the speaker frequently leads to wasted time in the introduction building one’s own credibility. Instead of working to overcome audience preoccupation and apathy (crucial functions of any introduction), the speaker recites his degrees, professional certifications, and the firm’s number of offices. None of that matters until you convince prospects you can offer a solution to their problems. Finally, a focus on the speaker can lead to sacrificing clarity on the altar of expertise. Speakers become so focused on showcasing their knowledge they rely on specialized vocabulary and technical terms inaccessible to their lay audiences. When they try to impress the audience, it becomes increasingly difficult to express their ideas.
The Message-Centered Approach. The danger in this approach resides in adhering to the ubiquitous, but erroneous belief that “the facts speak for themselves.” This belief manifests itself in the speaker who displays slide after slide of charts, tables and trending graphs in an attempt to beat someone into submission with the stick of logic. Rarely, and only in specific contexts where the technical knowledge of an audience is on par with that of the speaker, facts can speak for themselves. More often however, facts need contextualization, interpretation and explanation to be effective. An excessive focus on the message also leads to the speaker concentrating on what he wants to say, rather than what he wants to accomplish. Presenters succumb to the temptation to deliver as much information as the time allows, regardless of whether the information contributes to persuasion. In turn, they neglect issues and objections important to their audience.
The Audience-Centered Approach. Presenters who choose this POV begin with the end in mind. They start with the question “What do I want to audience to understand or act upon at the end of my presentation?” The answer guides all subsequent preparation from the choice how much information to include to appropriate visuals. These presenters circumvent potential problems with vocabulary and the level of sophistication and complexity by adapting their message to the audience’s frame of reference. Because they focus on outcomes, they choose relevant examples and persuasive proof points for their specific audience. I describe this approach to clients as having a “strategic goal” for the presentation. I explain that until they can clearly articulate what outcome they want from their audience, (not what they want to tell them, but what they want them to do), their efforts to persuade prospects to take the next step will fall short. Without a clear destination, trying to choose the best way to get there is an exercise in futility.
The approach is straightforward, but too often neglected. When you try to see things from the audience’s point of view, you’ll get a much higher return on your investment of time. You’re more likely to make a connection, understand their issues, and ultimately, win the business.
©Peak Communication Performance. Excerpted from Rainmaking Presentations: How to Grow Your Business by Leveraging Your Expertise, available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Download the first chapter at www.RainMakingPresentations.com. When you create more persuasive presentations, you’ll get more business. Affluent’s Presentation Expert, Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D., shows you how to design, develop and deliver presentations that win you the business. Contact him at Sommerville@RainMakingPresentations.com.