Everyone is searching for something, including your audience. If they came to listen to you by choice you can be certain that they are looking for something specific. Everyone and everything seem to be searching; let me explain.
Sitting quietly in my own back garden this morning I noticed an ant a bee and a plane:
Running frantically, its six tiny legs erratically scoured a few squared centimetres of paving in search of something. Maybe it was looking for food, it’s home or a sibling.
From my perspective it seemed to be getting nowhere extremely fast. Perhaps, if the ant could speak it would tell me I’m mistaken.
Singlehandedly devouring our honeysuckle plant. Like my new friend the ant, I couldn’t open up a dialogue with it but I’d be willing to bet that it was searching for nectar.
Hurtling through the heavens at several hundred miles an hour the pilot and his crew were clearly searching for something too; in this case it would be a very specific destination. What about the hundreds of people on board though; what were they searching for when they reached their destination?
There seemed to be a lot happening in, around and above my garden this morning.
The ant, the bee and the plane prompted me to ponder on how busy we all seem to be searching for something. That’s mindful presenting, putting the audience at the forefront of our minds. If we don’t know what they are looking for then how can we deliver?
What are your audience searching for when you present to them?
Is it knowledge, insight, clarity?
Are they looking to accomplish something?
Are they looking to fix something?
Are they looking to avoid something?
The fact is, we will never truly know what our audience are searching for unless we ask them.
We live in a world of noise and assumptions
Most of us are overwhelmed with information and much of it represents little more that superfluous noise or distraction. Information overload has serious consequences, including confusion, frustration, paralysis and stress. Most of the information presented to us isn’t retained and if we lose so much of what we hear and read then arguably its nothing more than noise.
For most of us that noise represents a major distraction. If it doesn’t serve any meaningful value in helping us to find what we are searching for then it either wastes our time or takes us off course.
In a recent presentation skills training course I led, I shared a piece of information I had read which suggested that we check our phones every 12 minutes. One of the delegates insisted that this research was seriously flawed. When I asked him why he thought that, he told me that he and most of the people he knew check their phones every 2 or 3 minutes. My point is that whether you are checking your phone every 3, 12 or 20 minutes you are receiving a lot of noise; the last thing your audience needs is even more noise.
Such frequent checking of our phones also suggests to me that many are searching for some kind of stimulation by what they will find; that in itself is a message and challenge for presenters.
Is your presentation filled with noise or distractions?
Think about some of the business presentations you’ve attended yourself over the last few months.
How much of it was relevant to you personally?
How much of it was based on little more than an assumption of what the presenter thought their audience wanted to know?
How much of it do you remember?
How much of it made a tangible difference to your personal or professional life?
Making assumptions can be dangerous. Intellectually, this is something most of us already know and understand of course but it still doesn’t always stop us from making them. I made a big mistake on this just last week.
I was asked to speak for 30 minutes to 90 managers to share some ideas on high impact presenting and public speaking. Having opened up a spoken and written dialogue with the Managing Director beforehand, I felt comfortable and confident about the opportunity.
The mistake I made was holding the assumption that most if not all of the people I would be speaking with had some interest in presenting or public speaking. I opened my presentation with a question:
‘By a show of hands, how many of you are called on from time to time to present or speak in public?’
No more than a dozen hands were raised.
That experience presented a significant challenge for me of my own making. I had to speak for 29 minutes to a room full of people who seemingly didn’t need to hear or would be interested in what I had to say.
Luckily for me, I hold the very passionate belief that we are all presenting every day in one form or another and that every conversation is a presentation. I was able to speak on that as part of my introduction which I believe garnered some interest and curiosity. Relying on our own passion isn’t enough, we have to understand why our audience are really there and what they want.
I won’t make the same mistake again though; it’s not fair to my audience.
Clarity is king
A few months ago, one of my favourite longstanding clients called on me to help some of their managers on their leadership development programme. At a recent development review meeting they were asked what additional help and support they needed. They advised their own learning and development team that they would like help with influence and persuasion skills.
That’s when I received a call.
Whilst delighted and excited to help in any way that I could, my first response was to ask what that really meant. It would have been remiss and unprofessional of me to simply build a workshop focused on influence and persuasion skills when I had no clue what that meant in very real terms to each individual. Without much more clarity, those two words on their own are very generic and affect us all in a multitude of different ways.
I spent the next few weeks opening up a dialogue with each of the team to understand with absolute clarity exactly what they were searching for.
It became clear that they were all searching for the same thing but just expressing it in different ways; they each wanted to make a greater impact on the business.
My goal was to understand their personal and professional challenges, objectives and experiences when it comes to influencing and persuading? Contrary to popular belief in training and development, one size does not fit all.
‘If you build it, they will come’ Is bad advice.
Another wonderful client of mine called on me to build a ‘sales training course’ to help their field sale team. Having spent many years in sales and sales management roles myself I was excited to help.
As part of my own research and development to enable me to help my client, I invested a great deal of time and money understanding what was going on in the world of sales today.
I booked myself onto some of the best training courses I could find, read extensively, worked with online programs and spoke to some of the most knowledge people I could find in that area.
I learned that much of what is being taught and written today is interesting to learn from a theoretic and academic perspective but it’s not wholly practical. A great deal of sales material is being presented as a highly complex science, something that someone created decades ago or unhelpful principles. If it’s not theory based with little regard for how human beings actually feel it’s a series of complex flow charts that rigidly direct the sales person on what to say and where and when to say it.
I’ve now taken an entirely different approach.
I’ve opened up a dialogue with every member of the field sales team including their manager to find out as much as I can exactly what it is each of them are searching for. I can’t help them until I know precisely what help they need. The world of mindful and high impact communication is as vast as it is exciting and once I understand exactly what my audience are searching for to help them to sell more effectively we will build a very powerful learning experience. It’s not simply about knowledge, tools and techniques, it’s about understanding exactly where our audience is today, where they would like to be tomorrow and what exactly they feel may be stopping them.
Don’t just build your presentation or training course and expect people to come and fall in love with it. Find out exactly what they are searching for first and then help them to find it.
What are your audience searching for?
Don’t’ guess or assume, ask them.
Whilst you’re asking, what about you, what are you searching for?
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