The Importance of Understanding your Audience.

I was contacted by a PR company who was representing a psychologist. The psychologist had developed a workshop for the clients of a financial services firm. They asked me to facilitate that workshop.

The workshop was only two hours long and straight forward. It was about planning your use of time once you had retired. Even though I had many conversations with all the groups above, I didn’t investigate who was coming to the workshop.

On the evening of the workshop we were halfway through and I asked whether the workshop was making sense? One half of the room said the workshop was fantastic and the material really opened their eyes and made them think.

The other half of the room almost erupted in protest. “None of this makes sense”, “Only came here for the coffee” they yelled.  What was I going to do?

As it turned out there was nothing I could do at the time. The group who were “up in arms” had already retired, so telling them how to plan for their retirement was not very useful. The other group who were full of compliments were years off retiring so found the techniques relevant.

If I had my time over, I would have rung the financial advisers and found out more about who they were inviting. They could then have invited more of the right people!

I don’t believe you! Understanding your audience.

A client was pitching for the construction of a government building with a high degree of complexity. There was only one engineer who had done this specific type of work before and they were based in England. My client was able to successfully engage this engineer to be part of their bid team. This was a real coup for my client.

Unfortunately, they lost the bid.  They conducted a debrief with my client and was surprised to discover that one of the reasons they were unsuccessful was because the government didn’t really believe that my client would be able to engage the key engineer.  The reason for this was because they had tried and failed!

What could we have done differently to overcome this?

In the final presentation we could have

  1. Played a recording of the engineer saying how much they were looking forward to working with the government.
  2. Done a live cross in the presentation to demonstrate commitment.
  3. Flown the engineer out to be present on the day.

So it is vital to understand what drives an audience on a rational and emotional level.

Moving Mountains

A participant on a program recently worked on a presentation that was due in two days time. He delivered the presentation and I called him the day after: “How did it go Jim?”

“Not so good Justin”

“Why was that Jim, did you achieve your objective?”

“Yes I achieved everything I wanted to, but it just turned into a conversation”

Jim was stuck in the old school mindset of presenting.  If your presentation turns into a conversation you have engaged the audience because you are talking about things that are important to them – you’ve nailed it!

So, the formulae we use to get the audience involved is what Andrew Abela calls the SCoRE method. It works by juxtaposing tension and release – the formulae for all good stories.

SCoRE stands for:

Situation – what are you there to talk about – put simply in a few words

Complication – What’s the biggest problem the audience is facing.  This creates tension and the need.

Resolution – what’s the solution to that problem.  This creates the release and satisfies the need.

Example – provide some evidence as to why your resolution will work.

Then continue on with the next CoRE for as long as you need to.

So this simple formula enables us to craft a story, engage the audience and achieve our objective.

Two types of stories

There is an abundance of evidence that stories are essential for persuasion, to the extent that storytelling in organisations drives business results. To take facts and figures and craft them into a story links the information together and aids retention by the audience. Also stories engage emotions which also aids memory.

In the next few posts we will talk about two broad categories as they relate to the Extreme Presentation Method.

The first is anecdotes and the second is sequencing your evidence to craft a story.

Anecdotes.  Anecdotes are used to highlight the most important points of your presentation and will be typically one of three types:

  1. Directly relatable to a company issue e.g. an employee did “x” which resulted in “y”
  2. Hypothetical. A story about a company that is not real, but the story is possible
  3. Metaphor.  A story that is symbolic of the story you want to make

The second type of story is the one where your evidence and anecdotes are sequenced in a way that juxtapose tension and release which is the formulae of all good stories. Andrew Abela calls this the SCoRE method and is based on the Method of Opposites outlined in detail by Henry Boettinger in his book Moving Mountains.

We will explore these two categories in the following posts.

You’re boring!

It’s interesting to watch team dynamics when coaching bid presentation teams. Especially when the team has come together having previously not known each other. Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the phrase “forming, storming, norming, and performing”, which pretty much describes what we see in bid presentation teams.  In the storming phase people start to push against the boundaries established in the forming stage and start to belittle each other as they jockey for position.

I’ve seen this belittling present itself when a senior member told a less experienced and nervous team member that their presentation style was boring. And another senior team member telling two other presenters, two days before a major $400million bid that if they presented “like that” the team was stuffed!

In both these situations the senior members were deflecting – denying their own failings and projecting them onto someone else.

Here’s three things you can do to prevent this from happening.

  1. Set the ground rules up front for feedback and that you as the facilitator will control (not dominate) that process. Make sure everyone knows there is a right time and place for giving feedback.
  2. Make sure everyone uses the aware, impact, change model. For example, rather than saying ”you’re boring”, say “are you aware that when you read from your notes the impact is you stop engaging the audience, you can change that by making sure you use more eye contact when you speak which will give you more energy.”
  3.  If people start to deflect call them on it quickly. Preferably one on one.

So watch out for the any narcissistic behaviour because it can undermine what should be the celebration of a lot of hard work.

Evidence is everything

The reality principle states that you should always present evidence that is concrete rather than conceptual. Showing real things, real people and specific details makes your presentation more interesting, memorable and persuasive.

Andrew Abela (Abela 2013, p 37) suggests the following when thinking about your evidence:

  • Provide lots of relevant detail – it increases credibility.
  • Verify your facts – where did your evidence come from.
  • Understand the constraints that inhibit your audience from taking action.
  • Demonstrate that you understand these constraints.
  • Make it personal and reflect that you understand the realities in your audience’s lives.

It doesn’t matter what type of personality your audience has, concrete and particular evidence is important for everyone.

Abela, AV 2013, Advanced presentations by design : creating communication that drives action, 2ndedn., Pfeiffer, San Francisco.

Marijuana, Comedy and Presentation Skills

Audiences have become so distracted that keeping their attention has become more challenging than ever.

Hollywood comedy writers now find that to hold their audience’s attention they need to provide a new punch line or gag every fourteen seconds. A study by the institute of psychiatry in London found that participants who were interrupted with emails performed worse on IQ tests than participants who were under the influence of marijuana. (Abela 2013, p. 2)

Here are three things we can do:

  1. Only focus on a problem your audience has that you can help solve.
  2. Don’t have a presentation if everyone knows and agrees on the answer to a problem.  Send out an email with suggested next steps instead.
  3. If you have really interesting information that you want to share, but it doesn’t help the audience, put it in an appendix, on a shared drive or email it out before hand. Or just leave it out all together.

If we can focus only on the specific needs of the audience, then we are more likely to hold their attention.

Abela, AV 2013, Advanced presentations by design : creating communication that drives action, 2ndedn., Pfeiffer, San Francisco.