When deciding on putting together a presentation there is common advice that you could craft it to fit your audience. I find that is easy to say, but much harder to do. The easiest situation would be a presentation inside your company.
Unless it is with senior executives who you do not deal with on a regular basis, you generally know who you are dealing with. You know who the key person is. You may know what their likes and dislikes. Plus, you may even be aware of what they can and cannot relate to so it is easier to tailor.
A more moderately difficult group would be a specific group or organization. If you know you are going to talk to a group of VCs, you can typically predict what the average one would interested in. If you have an idea of their sex, age, etc. It is also further easier to guess what references they would understand or not understand.
- What do you do when you don’t know the audience
- Beginners: The 4 different types of interest categories
- Advanced: The 4 personality matrix
- Case Study: The case of Tim Urban
What do you do when you don’t know the audience
But, suppose you are dealing with a new customer or a new audience that you are not familiar with? Then it gets much harder. That is why it is generally better to understand who you are talking to before you start. I would try to talk to the event planner or actually talk to the audience before the event.
However as more and more people are doing online events, this information can be hard to grab on to. So, you need to think about this systematically. I tend to think about my audience into a personality framework and a interest framework.
Beginners: The 4 different types of interest categories
When it comes to interests, your audience will come into two or four categories. The four categories are those interested and inclined to agree with you, those who are interested but inclined to disagree with you, those who are interested but have no opinion yet, then those who are not interested in your topic but are listening anyway because they have to.
This reduces to either interested or uninterested if you just trying to inform or entertain. Also note that interest is also a spectrum not a binary state.
For any given group the actual mix will vary. So there is no magic percentage of which group will be in what amount. It depends on the topic, local culture, etc. It is just better to assume that they exist and you should consider what to do if anything about them.
Dealing the uninteresteds
For example, knowing that a certain number of people are either uninterested or disinterred in your topic, you could either:
- ignore them
- appeal to them
Going with b tends to be the safer approach. Because even for the people who are interested in the topic, going over what they already know reaffirms it. That makes them feel good about themselves.
If you just ignore them, they just get bored and reach for their smart phones. A worse possibility is that one or two will get the courage to heckle or complain. That will ruin the atmosphere, so try to bring as many people you can in.
But, how would you appeal to these people? If you knew something that this group held in common what they were interested in then you could start from there. If you are unsure about that, then the most important thing you could do is highlight the problem.
When you highlight the problem, you are not just stating the problem. You are also mentioning the consequences of the problem. The audience needs to know and perhaps feel the personal consequences of the problem getting worse and worse.
If the uninterested are do not buy into the importance of your problem, they will fade out quickly. So, take care in establishing the problem. Be as quick and as impactful as you can.
Dealing with those who oppose
If it is a topic where people will have different opinions, then the next group you may want to consider is those who may have a different opinion that yours. For this group you want them to at the very least consider your side. So, providing a decent representation of their view using wording that they use is important. As Steven Covey once said, you need to make people feel heard before they will hear you.
If you do that, you appear very objective. This will help convince the nuetrals to your side. Even if you do a great job it is hard to convince everybody. But, by showing the merits and the demerits of your argument and also giving voice to the opposition, you will seem convincing and sincere to a good majority.
Please note that a logical appeal can work in most work-related areas, but when you deal with politics or very entrenched ideas, pure logic will not work. Even if your logic is impeccable, emotional attachment to some ideas is so strong that the “backfire” effect can appear. Since human beings are good a rationalizing anything they want to believe, a completely different approach is necessary that is discussed elsewhere.
What about those who already agree?
In general, you should be able to convince some of the people opposing you and also bring the neutral people to your side. After that, the only thing to consider is how to address the people who agree with you. Ideally, you want those who agree to become more of a fan.
To make people more of a fan of your idea there are several approaches you could take. One could include spotlighting some of them. Another is to encourage that group. If have already “worked the crowd” before your presentation, you can casually drop a few names of the people who agree with you. You can introduce their stories and struggles.
But if you are going to do so please make sure you have their permission. If you forget to get their permission you could surprise them in a very unpleasant way. This could create a situation that would later bite you. A fan turned into an enemy is usually the worst kind of enemy.
A few more recommendations
When starting to use this framework. I do not recommend trying to appeal to all the groups at once. This could cause your presentation to lose focus if you are not careful. You need to especially pay attention to this when you have limited time.
It is much better to focus on one target group. That would be your main target. Then you can work on the others as circumstances allow. This same advice goes with dealing with a much trickier framework and that is the audience personality framework.
Advanced: The 4 personality matrix
You are probably familiar with personality tests. There are all kinds like DiSC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness), Myers-Briggs, etc. Outside of the Big Five or Hexaco they are not based on a good set of scientific data.
However, it has been my experience that using a model like this just makes it easier for most people to imagine different people in their audience and plan accordingly. Dealing with a continuity of personalities across 5 or 6 axes is messy and hard to imagine. Dealing with four categories is simpler and easier to deal with.
In the following example, I am going to use Analysts, Supporters, Dreamers, and Drivers. This is not supposed to a complete model. Not everyone will fit cleanly into these groups. But in any case, it can give you a good starting point.
Plus it using these 4 personalities can help you look at your presentation more objectively. You may find out that you are only effectively appealing to your own personality group while leaving the other out in the cold and bored. That is probably not what you want to happen.
The Analysts: Show me the data
For me, the easiest group is the Analysts. These are the people who like data, charts, logic more than anything. It doesn’t matter if you get the conclusion out in front. If the logic and the data doesn’t fit, they are not convinced.
You need to be more logical and organized. They prefer seeing steps and processes for any particular concept. They are not comfortable if you jump right into your speech without giving them an idea of where you are going. A quick outline of what you will talk about will be appreciated.
The Supporters: Just want to help
The next group is the Supporters. These are the types that enjoy helping others. Logic and data will be less effective for this group. It is more important to show your connection to them and as well as how your content will help support others.
Also, showing that you care or that your plan is the more caring one can hold much more weight. Being overly cold and analytical like a Spock will be a big turn-off. Connection is way more important. You need to show you care for the same groups they do. Plus, that you are personally connected to that in some way.
As you can see just from these two groups if you focus too much on the data, the Analysts will love you, but the Supporters will be turned off. You will need to find a healthy balance to keep both groups focused and paying attention to your presentation. This may mean temporarily talking about this that is of less interest to one group or the other. All of which rests on how much time you have.
The Dreamers: They just want to have creative fun!
The next group is the Dreamers. These tend to be the more creative types. They are also more emotionally driven, but this is more about personal emotions that emotional ties to someone or some group. Dreamers tend to be more rule-breakers than rule-makers. They like big creative ideas and having a good time. So, stressing the newness and novelty of the idea will be useful in appealing to them.
The Go-Getters: They just get things done
Then the last group is the Go-Getters. These are the people where getting to the point quickly is important. If you focus too much on data and the theoretical side they get bored and tune off. The question for them is what are the pratical benefits of what you are talking about and what actions need to be taken. This group is about getting things done and getting them done quickly.
Things to avoid when using the personality matrix
So, you can see here that trying to please all four groups completely is a almost an impossible mission. If you go too far to one side or the other, you end up alienating another group. So, what tends to be much more effective is trying to give a little bit of something for everyone. But, do not go overboard as you will just look like a person without a core just trying to please everyone.
Case Study: The case of Tim Urban
Now you might wonder how the presentation would look like if you were to tailor it to the various groups.
If you were to look at Tim Urban`s TED 2016 talk called, “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” it would seem to be an explainer speech that fits well with Supporter type people.
It starts with throwing a bone to the Analysts by showing them a bar graph of work done from start to due date. But it is simple, safe, and has no numbers. Humor runs through the presentation and the speaker identifies himself as a procrastinator which other fellow procrastinators in the room can easily identify.
I find this opening very good. It placates some of the analysts, at the beginning. Then the rest of the speech gives the appearance of visually showing things that they would like without digging into the weeds. Unfortunately, more hardcore analysts would prefer actual references to scientific research papers, but none of that happens.
However, he does a good job of appealing to those who identify in the procrastinator group and also in the “I have to give TED Talk and I am scared out of my mind group.” The presentation is filled with cartoons and is for the most part light and fun.
It also has a fascinating ending with a wall of boxes. That way of visually viewing life and coming to a solution to the procrastination problem can be appealing to the Creative types.
What could be done better
On the other hand. This presentation takes its time to to get to the conclusion. It doesn’t even give a brief tease of the solution at the beginning. This could turn off the Driver types, who may enjoy the humor of first few minutes, but then quickly tune out as they are not sure where this speech is going nor why should they even care.
Maybe the few Drivers who do slightly suffer from procrastination may follow along. But, the speaker doesn’t specifically show how the wall of boxes could be used to help. So, even those that do follow along will not know what concrete action to take deal with the problem.
Further, Analysts who also like specific processes and steps and will also be disappointed in the concluding solution. I know I was.
A final note
Using this four personality framework you can start to picture how different people would react to the speech. Supporters would enjoy it because it is clearly a loving and connecting speech. It tries to bring two groups (procrastinators and non-procrastinators) into a better understanding of themselves.
The Dreamers will also love it because of the artwork, storytelling, and creative twist at the end. But, as I previously mentioned Analysts and Drivers will feel it is a little wanting.
So, the next time you think of creating a speech. Why don`t you consider one of the four personality types? Just pick one that you are the least comfortable with. That will be the one that will help expand your comfort zone. If you work on that, you will be able to not only effectively deal with people similar to your personality group but with those who are greatly different from you. How would that feel if you could do that? Wouldn’t it be great?
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