You’re probably wondering what the key question is – which is good, because that’s keenly focused your attention!
The key question is what every audience silently asks of every presentation. Tweet this
What do you think that burning question is? It’s this:
“What’s in it for me?”
Note: If you’re looking for techniques for answering questions that the audience actually asks, see Stop Q&A hypnosis – keep audience attention during your talk or webinar
(For context, please see the overview of the F!RST framework.)
If you show any sign of disregarding your audience’s needs, you’ll lose their attention instantly because they’ve painfully experienced “self-centric” presenters many times. So instead, to keep your audience glued to what you say, let them know in 4 ways how your talk benefits them:
- Use questions or issues for structure.
- Involve people through the title.
- Answer overtly, early, and often.
- Say “you” more.
Let’s look at those 4 ways you can show the benefits to your audience.
Use questions or issues for structure
This is the best way to approach your topic from your audience’s viewpoint Tweet this
To me, this is the best way to approach your topic from your audience’s viewpoint, and hence to answer their greatest question:
What’s in it for me?
The idea is that you find questions or issues (ideally 3 of them) that your audience find most pressing about your topic, and then you design the body of your talk to discuss each one in turn. For instance, if your talk’s about lending money through kiva.org, you might call its first section:
Why lend money through kiva.org?
Olivia Mitchell explains this technique in detail in her brilliant guide to structuring your talk around likely audience questions, which you can get via email from her blog.
While you’re dividing your talk into major sections, it’s worth allotting time to each one at this early stage – both speaking time and preparation time. (That helps you stay on track throughout, so you don’t run out of time during your talk, or while preparing!)
For instance, if your talk’s a 45-minute webinar to your organisation’s employees on major changes to work practices, you might allot times like in this table, which also gives examples of what you might name each section of your talk. (For tips on naming your talk – or its sections – see Involve people through the title, below.)
|Audience-focused section name||Old “speaker-centric” section name2||Speaking time||Preparation time|
|How to ask a question during the webinar||Administration||2 minutes||½ hour|
|What’s wrong with our “old way” of working?||The “old way” of working||5 minutes||1½ hours|
|What does this “new way” look like?||About the “new way”||10 minutes||3 hours|
|How does it affect you?||Effects on staff||10 minutes||3 hours|
|How does it affect your external contacts?||Effects on other organisations||5 minutes||1½ hours|
|If you have questions or comments||Questions||10 minutes||2 hours|
|What we need to do next||Summary||3 minutes||1 hour|
|Totals:||45 minutes||12½ hours|
(2 The 2nd column shows what you might have called each section in the past. It’s included here to show the contrast with the more audience-focused names in the 1st column.)
Involve people through the title
Even before you speak,
let people know you’re focused on them. Tweet this
You can do that by including 1 or more of these 3 options in your talk’s title:
- A question1 your audience might ask
- An action your audience will do
- A mention of your audience, like by using “I”, “you”, “your”, or a job title or role they identify with
(1Questions also have the benefit of being intriguing.)
This table lists some example titles and shows which of those 3 options each one uses:
|“How can I focus audience attention?”|
|“What are the best ways to focus audience attention?”||–|
|“3 ways to focus audience attention”||–||–|
|“How to focus your audience’s attention”||–|
|“How the best presenters focus audience attention”||–|
|“Audience attention – what it means to you”||–||–|
A title like those also helps keep you focused while you create your talk. So, try to draft a title early in the process, write it down, and keep it in sight while you work. If alternative titles come to you later, write them down too!
Answer overtly, early, and often
Right from the start of your talk – and throughout it – discuss your audience’s needs. That’s a huge step towards a meeting of minds on your topic. For instance, if your talk’s a sales presentation, begin by discussing the client’s situation, not your company, product, or solution.
Then, for as many of your talk’s points as you can, show the benefits from your audience’s viewpoint, instead of talking about your product’s features. And even if there aren’t audience benefits for a particular point, still approach it from their standpoint, not yours.
For great results in any presentation, you can use the 3-step model for pitching ideas, advocated by Jim Endicott, a presentation veteran. It goes a bit like this:
|Step||Start a sentence by saying…||Example||Purpose|
|1||“You know how [you suffer when]…?”||“You know how it’s really hard to keep people’s attention away from their mobile phone or email when you present, especially online?”||Shows you know and care about your audience’s issues, and influences people to agree with you already.|
|2||“Well [my solution is]…”||“Well this article gives you 3 specific ways to keep people’s attention, face-to-face and online.”||Neatly presents your solution to their issue.|
|3||“So [the benefit is]…”||“So your audience is far more engaged, making it much easier for you to persuade them and to achieve your goal.”||Makes the benefit(s) of your solution crystal clear.|
Say “you” more
Another way to focus attention is to use the words “you” or “your” often (and seldom use “I”). It’s a bit like mentioning people’s names – it makes them listen out for what you’re saying about them or their situation, which are 2 of their favourite topics! (It’s suggested by Patricia Fripp, former president of the National Speakers Association in the US.)
In fact, I suggest you formalise the process and actually count how often you use the words “you” or “your”. If you write out what you’ll say, you can use your word processor to count the occurrences, and then express that as a percentage of the total word count. (Writing it out is a good idea anyway because then you can more easily repeat or revise your talk, or have other people do so. It’s also the 1st action in the next part of the series – Minimise “blur”.)
Aim for “you” and “your” to make up 5 to 15% of the word count
Aim for “you” and “your” to make up roughly 5 to 15% of the total word count. (To give you some perspective, this post rates at around 9%.) Obviously, the percentage just gives you a rough measure of audience engagement, but it has 3 big advantages:
- It’s concrete, so for instance you can quantitatively compare different versions of a talk.
- You can use it anytime, especially while writing your talk.
- It’s easy to measure using your word processor.
By the way, some people suggest you should avoid saying “you” because it can sound preachy. To me though, that depends solely on the context in which you use it (as I wrote in reply to this comment below). For instance:
Saying “I urge you to follow these steps” is fine.
Saying “You have to follow these steps” sounds bossy.
As former public-speaking world champion Craig Valentine puts it:
“Use a soft ‘you’… I don’t like hard ‘yous’ because they
turn off audiences. Hard ‘yous’ are when you say things
like, ‘YOU have to do this and YOU have to do that.’ ”
Use “you” to mean your current audience
Here’s one last tip about the word “you”: Do use it to mean your current audience. That might sound blatantly obvious, but sometimes content for another audience gets reused. In that case, unless you reword the content, any “you”s in it mean someone else. And misusing “you” like that is extremely damaging – it disengages your audience because it shows them you don’t care about them. (It’s a bit like if a salesperson’s presenting to a client named “XYZ” but keeps calling the client “ABC” – who would do that?) Likewise, also avoid referring to your audience in the 3rd person (as “customers”, “staff”, “users”, or some other generic term), which is similarly rude!
In the next post, you’ll see 9 specific tips for intriguing your audience, starting with 4 experts’ ideas on how to make your talk’s title intriguing.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your views:
- Which of the 4 main points in this post resonated most with you?
- Are there other tips you’d recommend?