How To Develop An Audience-Focused Perspective -Presentation Training

During the last quarter of a century I have coached tens of thousands of people—sales executives, CEOs, civic leaders, prime ministers, members of the U.S. Congress and British Parliament, athletes, entertainers, pageant winners, and ordinary business people—on how to be better presenters. And through all of those sessions and speeches, I have found that there really is one big secret to giving a foolproof presentation. Would you like to know what it is?

The Secret:
Develop an audience- focused perspective rather than a speaker-focused perspective.

You might think that you don’t deliver presentations to audiences because you talk to only a couple of people at a time. But anytime you speak to convey information or persuade people toward a course of action, you are presenting to an “audience.” Simply put, an audience is anyone you present to, whether that is one single per- son listening to your sales pitch for a new phone service, twenty people listening to your department update at a weekly staff meeting, or two thousand people listening to your keynote address at an annual trade convention.

So, regardless of setting, I absolutely believe—because I’ve seen it time and again—that the reason most present- ers fall flat is because they are focused on what they want to say and how they want to say it. They rarely stop to consider what the audience wants to hear or how they want the message delivered.

Other business authors and leaders talk about the “Wisdom of the Crowd” when trying to make important market decisions: that is, a mass of consumers will always have a better idea of what will be well received in the market than a handful of elite executives.

For me, this idea logically filters down to the presenter and her audience. The audience you speak to is never wrong, in the same way that if you launch a new product and it fails in the marketplace, consumers were not wrong for refusing to buy it. The presenter should place faith in the wisdom of the audience—the audience will be a much better judge of what will be well received in a presentation. They are the ones who have to receive it, right?

As an example, let’s look at some common concerns most presenters have:
What does my audience want to hear?
Have you asked your audience?
What stories work best?
Have you asked your audience?
Do my slides work?
Have you asked your audience?
Am I overwhelming my audience?
Have you asked your audience?

All of these questions, and almost any others you can come up with, can be easily answered—for free—just by asking your audience.
Now, I’m not trying to convince you to put this book down. I’m trying to explain how valuable it is. Instead of spending a lot of time and effort polling hundreds or thousands of audience members and trying to get honest feedback, you can read this short book (in which I will also tell you how to effectively poll your audience members and get honest feedback). In a succinct and com- pact read, I am offering you the answers your audience will almost certainly give you. But why do you need to read it?

Why are presenting skills so important?

Because nothing big in life ever happens just by sending a memo or an email. The biggest moments in your life are about presentations. A job interview, a new business pitch, a marriage proposal, a request for funding, an interview on live network TV news, and a request for a promotion—these are all presentations of one kind or another. When a topic is important, human beings want to hear from you—directly. Presenting is not the best way to transfer a large body of facts to people, but it is the best way to make people sit up and take notice, to make them understand that you think something is extremely important, and to convince them that they should think it is important too. Presenting is a way of putting a spot- light on an idea that no other mediated format can ever match—not email, not memos, not even TV or radio.

Presentation skills are the only universal factor among wildly successful people in every field, yet they are taught the least in business schools and other institutions of higher learning. Every big corporation in the world is packed with mid-level managers, many of whom may have done better in school and have higher IQs than their bosses. But these mid-level managers often develop reputations for being behind-the-scene players. Why? Because they either avoided or failed at opportunities to speak out. They didn’t raise their hand in meetings. They turned down the opportunity to fill in for the boss on a critical client presentation. They developed a reputation for hard work, but also as “not the sort of person we can put out front, who can effectively represent our company to the industry and to the rest of the world.” This is a tragedy of human potential, but it is one that can be fixed at any age, by anyone.

I believe that any human being who has ever had even one interesting conversation with one other per- son already has all of the skills needed to be a great presenter—all you need to do is figure out how you met the needs of your audience (the other person in the conversation) and transfer those strengths into your presentation. This book will take this one guiding principle and show you how it applies to the most common questions you likely ask yourself before giving any speech. By focusing on the needs of your audience—of one or one thou- sand—and following the advice in this book, you will deliver foolproof presentations—every time.

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