The world of conferences and speaking tours are littered with smooth talking performers, specialist authors, deeply informed academics, well-titled executives, dogmatic sermonizers, key industry celebrities and a good measure of “I’m in way over my head” newbies, scared and aloof.
Too often, the performance and messages of these people shared at these events fall on deaf ears. Good people do not necessarily equally good popular presentations,. Why?
One of the big reasons in my opinion is a misread of audiences. Orators and panelists are tone deaf to the needs of their audience, preferring to be directed by their natural style, stock presentation format or comfort zone than empathy for the customer. Don’t feel outed – many of the best of Hollywood have turned tone deaf upon hosting their industry night – the Academy Awards.
As much as we may nod our heads reasonably , most speakers fail to discriminate that the same content that might work for a room of 15 falls deathly quiet in an auditorium of 800. The performance needs and expectations of an academic institution stand in stark contrast to that of activist rally. The energy and delivery expectations of a young student audience are quite different than that of a steely corporate set. It’s a misread I see all the time at interactive, tech, business, social media and new marketing conferences. At a recent conference, I spoke at – I counted 12 people that took the stage and 11 missed the mark, likely for this reason.
With the slick and polished professional speakers, it’s particularly painful to see how a large percentage of their style and content never adjusts to their audience or different setting. As thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars being doled out for their appearance, it’s a significant waste of not only people’s time but equity as well.
Make no mistake – when you sign up to speak at an event, you are signing up to be a performer. If it wasn’t the case, people could gladly zip their powerpoints across the country with no loss of insight or perspective. Your aim as a speaker is to add colour to your already-existing argument and force, cajole, maybe entice people, specifically the people at your event, to escape, be entertained, be educated or profoundly changed by your message. And as much as it depends on the preparation, smarts and energy you bring to the stage, it also depends equally on them – your audience.
One of the great joys of TED Talks is that it has a pre-established format with an audience that has pre-screened itself as intellectually curious, ideas motivated and primed to be entertained by short 20 minutes bursts of discovery. Chris Anderson and team have nailed the alchemy and interplay between presentation theme, content, style and audience expectation. There are very few flops.
I’ve diagnosed the various expectations of the tens upon hundreds of keynotes I’ve had the privilege of performing at over the years and have come to realize my performances camp up into 10 different types of delivery (based on 5 types of audience and 2 types of delivery). Here they are:
Skeptics – as a group, these people do not currently buy your message – you can either try to drive a truck through the front of their resistance or more cleverly, find areas of common agreement through the side door
Novices – many of these people don’t even know the questions you might be solving, never mind the answers; you need to handhold them without ever coming off as superior
The Melting Pots – frequently at large events – you will have hodge-podge of every one of these audience types sitting in the seats; you need to create a “big tent” so everybody can get inside your message
Primed - these people want to walk over the fire coals with you, they have a propensity to like your message, all they need is a little push (and then telling them how it will feel after being pushed)
Experts – these people have already bought into your anthem, they are humming and toe-tapping, you want to get them singing and providing them ammo for stuff they might not already know
Two styles of presentation equally work:
The Emotional – a higher order presentation goal is to get people to feel something in their soul stirring in them during and at the end of the presentation, this tends to have higher risk-reward
The Rational – the clever delivery of facts and insight can also work and is usually a more reliable presentation style
Types of Presentations
The Persuasive Contrarian (skeptic, emotional)
Style – the charming, likable person that I want to believe
Content – serving up questions, providing history, bridging disagreement, confronting hurdles, challenging existing mindset, shifting perceptions
The Court Case (skeptic, rational)
Style – the smartest guy/girl in the room
Content – the indisputable truths, mountain of evidence, framing arguments, data
The Important Primer (novice, emotional)
Style – the sensai (expert) who understands what it is not to know (empathy)
Content – the human touch, providing relatable perspective, debunking myths creating importance/urgency
The 411 Instructional (novice, rational)
Style – the simple and step by step teacher
Content – the essentials, important messages, process steps, links to further resources, visualization, tutorial steps
The Inspirational (melting pot, emotional)
Style – the big entertainer and story teller
Content – metaphors, interesting profiles, personal journey, stories with lessons learned
The “Big Tent” Interactive (melting pot, rational)
Style – the social convenor drawing out audience attention, interest and questions
Content – Q&A, audience participation, context setting, tiered knowledge (from novice to expert), tailored advice
The Pandora’s Box (primed, emotional)
Style – the excited visionary and cheerleader
Content – an aspirational spectrum of examples, mix and matchable ideas, shortcuts, dos/don’ts, nothing you can’t do zeal
The Roadmap (primed, rational)
Style – the road-tested steward at the wheel
Content – key success factors, stages and steps, milestones and benchmarks,
The Ra-Ra Tribal
Style – the “I get you” cultish leader marching at the front of the parade
Content – us vs. them, insider advice, rituals, new glossary, humour, anecdotes
The Fresh Bread
Style – the plugged in and connected translator of new trends and developments
Content – aspirational examples, futurism, insider quotable quotes, new learnings
As Olivia Mitchell notes from her experience at SXSW 2010 though, it doesn’t matter what your personal style, just have some care for your audience.
So what’s on your stage?
For seven great reference sites for presentations, try: