Audience-Centricity Conundrum: Being Thorough or Getting Through?

Your topic is set. Your time is limited. You know it’s all about them – your audience – because you’ve wisely adopted the principle of audience-centricity for yourself as a communicator.

So, when preparing yourself for a presentation, ultimately the question for you is this: Which end result do you prefer? Standing in front of a group and being comprehensive, saying everything you know and covering everything in your slide deck? Or being selective and targeted and saying something— even just one thing—that actually resonates with your listeners and sticks in their minds?

Which presenter are you?

It’s your call.

Either way, let me know what you decide.

[*Excerpted in part from Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World, www.jocktalkbook.com]

Audience-Centricity: Honor the Contract

When you get up to talk or take the microphone at an event, it is not, and should not, be all about you—not if you want to be effective, impressive, and memorable, that is. There is an unwritten, unspoken contract with your audience that you, the speaker, will entertain, enlighten, or energize them. Personal stories need to support a point. The time you take needs to be used to deliver something of value. An audience waits for something new, useful, beneficial, or fun. Audiences like to be acknowledged somehow. In order to deliver on any or all of this, you must prepare your remarks with your audience’s experience in mind. That is the essence of being audience-centric.

Audiences all have biases, self-interests, and expectations. They have a very basic “what’s in it for me?” thread running through their subconscious. They want something in exchange for their time and attention. As if that weren’t enough, they also don’t want to work hard. Unless you guide them and tell them where you’re taking them, they won’t make the connections and get there on their own. To make matters slightly more challenging, competition for people’s attention is tougher, and their devices—cell phones, laptops, tablets—are ubiquitous (although the presence of devices can also be a good thing, as increasingly people use them to take notes).

Finally, an audience sizes you up immediately and, within seconds, decides if you are worth their attention and engagement. There are studies showing that this happens in the first eight seconds. Think about that: In the first eight seconds, people decide whether to listen to you or not. This certainly puts some weight on how you open your talk.

All of this adds up to a tall order. It demands that you, the speaker, think about your audience more than just superficially. Your topic and your time allotment may be fixed, but your audience is a variable, and that should guide you in preparing what you deliver and how. The experience you give them will stay with them longer than any words or data you share.

Audience-Centricity is a Gift

Consider the word “present.” In communications coaching, I typically use it as a verb, but if you look at it as a noun, it’s present, as in gift. Think about audience-centricity as a gift to your audiences. As with birthday or holiday gifts, people love something they can use, enjoy, or learn from. You should plan to give a present every time you present! If you want to be that speaker who is memorable, then be extremely selective and targeted. Take a few extra minutes and identify a big idea, a “so what,” or a key takeaway for your audience, and then prioritize exactly what and how you’re going to present. Be audience-centric and don’t just present (v), deliver a present (n).

Hope is Not a Strategy

Hope is Not a Strategy

How many times have you said, when asked about an upcoming presentation, “Gosh, I hope it goes well!”? 

Think about that for a moment. You hope it goes well? What’s the plan that goes with that?

Hope is not a strategy. A plan to deploy your knowledge and skills is a strategy. Let’s break this down in the simplest way possible:

Your knowledge. You have a topic, and you have subject-matter expertise in that topic. That’s great, but still not enough. The next ingredient in planning your presentation is audience-centricity – taking into account your audience’s interests, needs and experience. In other words, you must organize and prepare your topic/expertise in a way that presents compelling points to your audience, and you must choreograph your time taking into account things like work-from-home distractions and screen-fatigue.

Your skills. You’re a decent presenter when you’re face to face with your audience, i.e. in the same room. More than likely, though, you’re going to need to be just as effective delivering virtually. You’ll need energy – more than usual – in your voice and body. Keep your voice energy consistently up and animated. Sit up straight and be forward in your chair. You’ll also need to employ intense eye contact – with the little green light that is the camera on your computer. Speak to the camera so that your audience sees you looking at them. And you’ll need to rehearse all of this because, in so many ways, it’s trickier than presenting face-to-face.

As we near the end of summer, and continue to settle into the new realities of how we do business, this is a good time to refresh our mindset about making effective presentations. To that end, keep in mind: Hope is not a strategy. Preparation is.

Q4 Challenge

It doesn’t take much to be a good leader-communicator. Perfection may be elusive, but being good enough to earn the admiration of your team are well within reach. Adherence to a few core principles takes care of most situations.

In my book Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World, I walk readers through the philosophy behind, and application of, these 5 principles: Audience-centricity, Transparency, Graciousness, Brevity, and Preparedness.

Taken together, they send two really important messages about you to your audience: 1) that you care about and respect them, and 2) that you’re real and therefore credible and trustworthy.

Audience-centricity is probably the most fundamental of the five principles. Simply put, audience-centricity is making the audience’s interests and experience a top priority in the planning and execution of a talk. Too many speakers prepare and deliver what is important and interesting to themselves without enough careful consideration of their listeners. Being audience-centric is a mindset shift that encourages the speaker to prepare and deliver content in a way that will matter to and resonate with the audience.

Transparency is exactly what you think it is; it’s about being open and direct—yes, and honest, too. Transparency is critical. It contributes to the levels of sincerity and trust that are accorded to you by your audience.

Graciousness is the art, skill, and willingness to be kindhearted, fair, and polite. As motivators and influencers, love and peace work far better than hate and war. Speaking in positives rather than negatives leaves lasting, favorable impressions. 

Brevity is a crowd-pleaser and needs no further introduction.

Preparedness speaks for itself as well, especially because the unprepared speaker is the one who is most likely to be longwinded, not to mention unfocused. While the mere thought of preparation might bring on feelings of dread or even impossibility, there are ways to prepare that take only seconds but that can greatly enhance a speaker’s effectiveness.

As you settle in for the homestretch toward year-end, I would encourage you to pick one of these principles as your personal pet project for the remainder of Q4. Which one of these 5 do you feel like you need to improve on the most? Or which one of these 5 would have the most impact on your business if you strengthened it? Pick one and go for it!