3 Truths About Your Audience

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In “8 Core Truths About People,” Geoffrey James gives us some essential truths that help us work and communicate better with people.  Three of these tips can apply directly to your presentation audience.

Audiences Need Story

James says, “People think in stories.  Ever since first humans sat around the first campfire, they’ve been enthralled by stories because stories give meaning to events and facts that otherwise would seem random.  Therefore, weave facts into a narrative in order to attract and hold more customers, employees and investors” (Source).  I know this to be true in my everyday life because of how long stories stick with my students.  For example, we watch Benjamin Zander’s TED Talk on the first day of class.  A day, a week, a month later, my students can still recall the stories Zander told in his presentation.

It doesn’t matter if your presentation topic is logical.  If you’re talking about science, your audience still needs storytelling.  Neil DeGrasse Tyson asks, “Whoever said you couldn’t communicate science by way of stories? Cosmos is an occasion to bring everything that I have, all of my capacity to communicate. We may go to the edge of the universe, but we’re going to land right on you: in your heart, in your soul, in your mind. My goal is to have people know that they are participants in this great unfolding cosmic story” (Source).

Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds emphasize the importance of storytelling in our presentations.  To learn more, read Duarte’s “Structure Your Presentation Like A Story” and Reynolds’ “The Storytelling Imperative: Make Them Care!”

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Audiences Need To Be Involved

James explains that people need to be heard.  Human beings want to be acknowledged and to feel important.  He says, “Being unable to speak, or to speak and have nobody listen, is the very definition of powerlessness” (Source).  True, an audience can’t speak while the presenter is speaking, but you can make an audience feel heard by getting them involved and by appealing to their needs.

Story definitely helps audience members feel involved.  Consider how you feel when you’re in the audience watching an amazing movie or on your couch reading an engaging book.  You’re involved – you feel as if you are a part of that story.

Knowing the audience’s needs helps you create a presentation that will help them feel heard.  Check out Chapter 3 of Nancy Duarte’s Resonate: “Get To Know The Hero.”

Other simple, effective ways to get your audience involved include encouraging participation, initiating discussion, and directing an activity.  For more tips on how to get your audience involved, check out this article by Forbes’ Kristi Hedges and “How To Engage Your Audience” by the presentation experts at Ethos3.

Audiences “Decide Emotionally and Justify Intellectually

This is my favorite “truth” in James’ article.  He says, “Very few people make decisions by first assessing the facts and then coming to a decision.  Most people decide from the gut and then find reasons why that was a good decision.  Therefore, when you’re seeking a decision, only present facts that will elicit an emotional reaction but which then hold up to scrutiny” (Source).

Yesterday, I was helping a group of Sports Marketing and Media students rehearse and tweak their Final Project presentations.  The most successful students developed a persuasive business pitch that explained not only the facts but also the meaning behind those facts.  Nancy Duarte agrees that a presentation comprised of facts alone will fall short with audiences.  She says, “You risk losing your audience when you just ‘state the facts,’ even in a business setting. No presentation should be devoid of emotion, no matter how cerebral the topic or the audience. Speak to people’s hearts as well as their minds. Look for ways to add emotional texture to your exhibits, data, proofs, logical arguments, and other analytical content” (Source).  Duarte agrees with Simon Sinek that starting with and explaining “why” will help any presenter get to the meaning behind the data.

Can you think of any additional “truths” to remember about your audience?

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