If we bump into each other sometime soon, I have to warn you, I’ll probably quiz you. I can’t help it, after all those years as a reporter. During one of my recent quiz sessions a businesswoman from Seattle told me her biggest challenge when she is in front of an audience is making sure she is getting the audience to “buy in” to her message. I realized we all have that same challenge in one form or another. Here are some quick suggestions on boosting your chance of getting audience “buy in.”
Know Thy Audience: It is one of the commandments — and probably the first commandment — for anyone who makes presentations or speeches. The more you know about the audience the more you are likely to hit the points you’re making in a way that is meaningful to them. From the Board of Directors to the local School Board, a cookie cutter approach which screams “this is the way I always do this presentation” will be the quickest route to a bored, tuned out audience. Talk to them — directly to them — not just your eye contact and gestures but with your message as well.
Read Thy Audience: Okay, so you’ve done your research on the audience and you know who they are and what they’re all about. The next step is to not be so tied to your presentation that you lose the ability to “read” the audience. What works for them in-the-moment? What causes them to perk up their ears? What is their body language telling you? When do they ask questions and get involved? Be flexible enough to adjust your presentation based on what’s happening in the room.
Keep the Connection Going After You Leave: Don’t assume “buy in” just happens when you are directly in front of an audience. What can you design ahead of time which you can leave behind or send to them afterward to continue your connection with that audience? (What you are reading right now is one of my tools to stay in touch with colleagues I have appeared in front of — and I hear back from people I met years ago because of the Monthly Memo.) What “leave behind” can you design to keep the discussion going? And remember; don’t put the “leave behind” in front of them until you are finished! The last thing you want is people looking down at your clever, colorful, well written brochure while you are still there, standing in front of them! The same for a web site suggestion, for example. Don’t give it to them so early they start looking for it on their Blackberry while you’re still trying to reach them live!
Too many times we think of a presentation or speech in much too narrow of a world. When it is done well, it is the start of a conversation. If it just feels like you are trying to “sell” them something they will tune out. They’ve seen this before. The conversation is over before it starts. If instead you are a smart resource for that audience member, helping them solve a problem they are facing or may face down the road, you’re changing the entire dynamic. Be that smart resource and “buy in” will be much easier — and the road ahead will be much smoother!