How To Make Your Message Relevant To Your Audience
by Andrea Pacini —
When Paul McCartney headlined Glastonbury in 2022 he played a long set which included lots of newer material, plus songs from his solo and Wings albums. Many people loved it. But he was criticised for not giving the audience what they wanted — which was the hits.
No doubt Sir Paul had his reasons. He doesn’t just want to play Beatles songs all evening. But even someone of his experience and talent can get it wrong sometimes.
It’s an easy mistake to make. I see lots of business leaders giving presentations with messages which are not relevant to their audience. As a result, the people on the receiving end don’t react the way the speaker wants them to. They don’t believe, feel or do what the presenter hoped. The audience doesn’t take action.
To explain why this happens, let me ask you a question.
If you had to give a presentation in a few weeks’ time, what would be the first thing you would start working on? Don’t tell me what you should be doing. Be honest and think about what you would actually do.
For many entrepreneurs, business leaders and professionals the first thing they do is boot up their laptop, open PowerPoint (or another presentation tool like Apple’s Keynote) and start working on a deck.
Others might stop to think about their message, the agenda or the outline. That would be a better approach. However, even that isn’t the first thing you should do.
The very first step you should take is to think about the audience. When you give a presentation to an audience, it’s their presentation, not yours. It’s always the audience’s presentation.
I like to think of a presentation as a present. If I go to buy you a present, it’s your present not mine, so I know I must buy something you like.
When you give people a presentation, it’s their presentation not yours. So you need to reflect on your audience before you open PowerPoint and also before you start thinking about your message.
Putting the audience-first approach into practice
It’s all very well saying to put the audience first. But how can you do that in practice? When we work with clients we have an easy way of going about it. We always start with the ABC of preparation.
ABC stands for Audience, Burning needs, Context.
Before you do anything else, you need to take some time and ask yourself some questions about these three areas.
My colleague Phil Waknell has an excellent and more detailed summary of the sorts of questions you might want to consider in his book Business Presentation Revolution.
However, here’s a summary of some of the most important questions.
- Who are the key people in the audience?
- Which company do they work for?
- What are their job titles?
- What are their main questions and challenges?
- How do their questions and challenges relate to your presentation?
- What do they expect from your presentation?
- How long should the presentation be?
- How many people will you be presenting to?
- In what kind of room will your presentation take place?
- If it’s online, what conferencing tool are you going to use?
Phil shares a great story in Business Presentation Revolution that illustrates the importance of putting the audience first.
He recalls a woman called Marie who was invited by a business association in Poland to give a talk about leadership. It was one of her first international speaking opportunities, so she worked really hard on her preparation, thinking about her messaging and designing some great slides.
Marie arrived the day before the conference and then went to the venue 30 minutes before the start of her presentation so she had some time to set things up. When she was about to connect her laptop to the screen, she realised there was no screen.
She called the hotel facilities manager for support. Rather than helping her out, the manager started laughing.
It turned out that the talk was for an association of blind professionals so there was no need for a screen.
It sounds like a bad joke but it’s a true example. Marie had done all her preparation except the crucial audience research. It wouldn’t have taken her long to establish that the audience would all be blind.
Marie’s story underlines the need to relate your presentation to your audience and work through the ABC.
What if I don’t have all the answers?
It’s not always possible to know everything about your audience. You might be able to make some assumptions, based on your industry experience. But there might be gaps in your knowledge about the audience, their burning needs and the context.
However, the more you can get to know your audience in advance, the more solid your assumptions will be.
Not all of the questions will be relevant each time you start to prepare a presentation. But the process of running through them, researching as much as you can and thinking about the audience’s needs and the setting is always time well spent.
The answers to the questions will help you to develop a message which is relevant and useful for the listeners. It’s impossible to create a presentation which is related to your audience unless you start with the ABC.
A common mistake people make when delivering presentations is not thinking enough about the audience.
Many business leaders start preparing for a presentation by working on their PowerPoint slides or working on the message.
The best action to take before anything else is to think about your audience and do some research.
You can do this by following the ABC — Audience, Burning needs and Context.
When you communicate a message which is related to your audience, they will believe, feel and do what you want them to. They will take action.
My hope when writing these articles is that business leaders will put the advice into action and improve their presentations. Please let me know if you’ve had a chance to deliver a presentation where you put the audience first. Let me know any feedback and please share the articles with friends and colleagues.
If you want to become a more confident presenter, take the Confident Presenter Scorecard. Answer simple Yes/No questions, get an instant score plus suggestions for improvement. It takes less than 3 minutes. Once you complete the scorecard, you’ll receive a free pdf copy of my best-selling book Confident Presenter.