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Knowing your audience

In this video, Dave talks about altering your pitch to suit different audiences: remember that not everyone will respond to ideas the same way.
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When you go to present an idea, who you’re presenting to can make a world of difference. Pitching to a single, cynical mature expert is wildly at odds to … presenting to a theatre full of enthusiastic but inexpert children. However, if the purpose of a presentation is to have an impact on an audience, to provoke a change in behaviour or the adoption of an idea, then who you’re talking to is a major consideration in how you plan to explain the idea. One core principle of audience engagement is to always ask ‘what’s in it for them?’ Why should anyone else care about your idea? Put yourself in their shoes and try to find a compelling hook for their interest in your idea.
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You may even wish to involve them in the idea and make it their idea too. It might be a different motivation to your own, or a different prioritisation of similar motivations, but remembering that their reason might be different to yours is the fundamental insight.
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You can break the identification of audience factors into three parts: size, knowledge, and interest. First up is size of audience; presenting to one to three people can feel pretty conversational. You’re likely to be sat down, quite close to them, and be able to manage a large degree of interaction with them. Once you get above four or five people, you might need to more formally present an idea as more of a monologue with some structured interactions for questions. Over double figures and it’s more of a performance. You’re likely to have to grab their attention somehow in a busy space and provide more of a spectacle to stand out.
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I always recommend standing up to present as it creates more impact, unless it would clearly be weird or inappropriate to do so. For example, in a very small room standing up to present to a seated colleague might appear intimidating. Think about how you can use the space, whether people can see or hear you easily. Do you need visual aids to get an idea across? With small groups you can easily manage conversations, questions, and interactive elements of a presentation. With large groups you may need a detailed plan with some very structured interactive elements to prevent meandering discussions, constant interruptions, and balanced participation opportunities that don’t favour the loudest mouth in the room. Secondly, knowledge.
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How expert is your audience about your idea? Can you harness that knowledge, use more technical language, make assumptions about existing know-how, and refer to things they already understand well? With an expert audience, you need to avoid telling them anything they already understand, else they’ll get bored and irritated. If you need to explain something basic to contextualise something else, frame it as a refresher. “I know you understand CFCs really well, I just want to reiterate it so you can see how the whole picture operates.” If they lack knowledge, you should allow more time to explain key concepts and think about how you can use examples or illustrations that they do understand already to help them on board your idea.
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If you baffle them with technical jargon, acronyms, and references to things they know little about they’ll get frustrated and start switching off and getting bored. The difficulties comes with audiences who have mixed levels of knowledge, where some people know a lot and some know a little. In this instance, make a point of acknowledging some know more than others and that you’ll be trying to walk a line between those points and can people bear with you? More difficult still are audiences who are expert on some areas of your idea, but not all the areas, and you have to navigate between areas that the same person is both expert and inexpert in.
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The best advice here is pre-research on who is in your audience and ask questions of them in advance to establish where they are knowledgeable and work from that basis. Thirdly and finally, interest. Just because an audience is expert, doesn’t mean they’re interested. Likewise, sometimes the least knowledgeable audiences are actually the most fascinated. This goes to the core of finding out what’s in it for them.
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I often talk about three types of audience: the Passer-by, the Hostage, and the Volunteer. The Passer-by doesn’t even know they are an audience until you start presenting to them, at which point they either escape, become hostage, or volunteer to listen. Hostages are those audiences who have to be there but don’t want to be there. They might be actively hostile or just passively cynical or disengaged.
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The trick with these audiences is to sell them the value of listening: your opening line and initial pitch should include one or more key reasons to keep listening, something valuable, interesting, or provocative, but something that acts like a film trailer for listening to whatever follows. Grab their attention and find a hook that you know will interest them so they volunteer to stay on even if they initially felt like a hostage. Volunteer audiences have chosen to be there, they might even have paid to! You can assume that they’ll be interested and engaged for at least a while, but if you don’t provide them with something that interests them, they can quickly slip into feeling like hostages.
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So remember, think about your audience before you start to pitch. What’s in it for them? How many of them are there? How much do they already know, and do they care?

Another factor to consider when pitching is audience: not everyone will respond to ideas the same way.

In this video, Dave talks about altering your pitch to suit different audiences. After you’ve watched the video, discuss the following questions:

  • What do you need to know about your audience before you pitch your ideas to them?
  • What differences might you need to make to your pitch to adapt to different audiences?
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