Presenting to different audiences: how to tailor presentations for success

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You wouldn’t wear the same shoes to Buckingham Palace as to Bondi (King Charles probably isn’t a flip flop and tankini kind of guy), and you wouldn’t bring your snorkel on a skiing holiday (not until climate change transforms slopes into splashzones, anyway). Why would you think the ‘one size fits all’ approach works for your presentations? Just as different occasions call for different outfits, presenting to different audiences demand unique decks.

Why bother tailoring a presentation to different audiences?

As any marketing minion worth their salt will tell you, precisely targeting your audience is a must for any successful campaign. If we look back over the history of advertising, every wannabe Don Draper has sought ways to get under the skin of their ideal audience, to discover what makes them tick, to get paint a picture of their aspirations and their fears to get them to do (or more likely to buy) what they wanted.

But somehow when it comes to presentations, the basic commandments of marketing get forgotten.

All too often, a presenter heedlessly charges in, clutching their pre-set agenda in their clammy fist, focussing entirely on what it is they want to say. They dish out dull details about company structure, laud the wonders of their own product and bang on about their impressive sales figures. They barely give a thought to the audience sitting on the other side of the projector.

The result? Mark firmly missed.

Talk to the face, not the space

It’s hard (rude, even) to expect an audience to pay attention to you rattling through your slides if you’ve only given a cursory thought to their unique wants, needs and fear. You might as well be shouting into the void.

Your audiences is going to arrive in the presentation room with their own baggage. They might carry prejudices or misconceptions about your company. Maybe they’re happy with their existing solution and can’t see a reason to engage you at all. Maybe they’ve dozed through three other pitches already and just want to go home and take a bath. Whatever the case, it’s up to you to provide a reason for them to sit up and take notice.

You need to show them what’s in it for them. Here are three tips to help you achieve that goal.

1. Find out who they are

If you started reading today hoping to find a template you could lift that outlined many different presentation shapes for investors, customers and internal stakeholders, then we’re sorry but you’re going to be disappointed. Because it’s just not that simple. Shaping a deck to meet your audience’s needs doesn’t just mean using the right generic template – it goes far deeper than that.

If we told you that marketing’s classic demographic search encompassing age, gender, income, hobbies and holiday habits would place Ozzy Osborne in the same little targeting box as King Charles, you might start to get what we mean. While the Prince of Darkness and the erstwhile Prince of Wales may have royal blood in common, it’s probably safe to assume they don’t share the same tastes in everything.

The point is that profiling your audience with a nothing more than a dry scan across job title and demographics just won’t cut it. If you want your presentation to hit hard, you need to know exactly who you’re talking to. And we mean really know – not just a superficial skate across the surface. You need to picture who your ideal audience will would be. You need to dig down into their DNA, understand what’s moving them and what’s in their way, round them out as flawed individuals with deep fears and hopes, and then work hard to hone your words so they hit the mark every time.

2. Find out what they want

Once you’ve answered the basic questions about your audience – which newspapers do they read, how do they spend their free time, what skills do they wish they had but don’t have the time to hone, yadda yadda yadda – you need to explore what they really want from life. The temptation here is to look through the lens of the your own company and answering every question as if the product holds all the answers.

But guess what? It doesn’t.

The key to understanding your audience is to step back. You need to view them through objective eyes, to get an outsider’s idea of their inner desires and frustrations without trying to crowbar your solution into the mix.

Only once you’ve got this persona sketch can you start really considering what might be driving your audience into your waiting arms, and name the hurdles still standing in their way.

3. Find out how to make them care

But why does all this matter, we hear you cry? Why does the fact my typical audience member reads The Sun, loves Jiu-Jitsu and dreams of retiring to Andalusia make the slightest difference when I’m presenting them a tech product?

Because, dear reader, every presentation involves an act of persuasion. Whether your presentation is selling overtly, subtly reinforcing brand credibility, boosting company morale or consolidating your brand vision, you’re always trying to persuade your audience. Persuasion’s impossible if they just don’t care about what you’re saying. And you won’t get them to care if you don’t understand what’s driving them.

By shaping your presentation to properly target your audience’s pain points, they’ll start to care about what you say, because it’ll start to actually matter to them.

But how, FP??

So you’ve dug deep, unearthed some rich details and some universal persona truths. You know your audience better than the back of your hand…what next? Well, now it’s time to craft your presentation so that you keep the audience rapt from the first attention-grabbing slide to the very last. Here’s how:

Make them the hero

Spin that spotlight and put your audience front and centre of everything you create. This should be easy now you’ve got such a clear picture of who they are. Remember they’re the Hero of your story, you’re just the Guide (more about that here). Weave in the right kinds of cultural references to be sure your message always hits home, and they leave the room feeling less Clark Kent and more like the guy in the cape.

Watch your tone

Having the right messaging and the right framework is all well and good, but if your words sound wrong people will soon switch off. Achieving the perfect tone of voice is about thinking what effect you want to have on your audience and what emotions you’re trying to excite in them.

Language matters

The language you use is linked to the tone you choose. Think about how much (or little) the audience knows about your subject. Are they familiar with your brand acronyms? How elevated should your language be? Remember, a presentation isn’t a written document, so keeping it simple usually makes sense.

Story shape

We bang on an awful lot about the importance of storytelling in presentations, but that’s because it works. Use a story arc to shape your presentation in the right way and you’ll hit the right high and low notes with never a duff chord among them. Different story shapes lend themselves to different types of presentations but also to different audiences.

There’s no point launching into a story mid-action (that’s the In Medias Res story shape if you’re wondering) with an uninitiated audience that can’t even see the need for your product in the first place. Similarly, there’s little point in painting a dramatic tale of hero vs villain (that’s the Overcoming the Monster arc in action) if you’re putting together a pure factual investor deck.

Visuals

The right colours, graphics and fonts are just as important as the words you use. Think of them all working in harmony, the various ingredients of a perfect dish. Leave one out, or get one wrong, and the whole thing just tastes weird. But choose them carefully, and holistically, and you’ll create a dish to die for and leave the audience always hungry for more.

So, the next time you’re about to put pen to PowerPoint, stop! Turn the camera around. Think about who it is you’re trying to reach before you storm ahead. We promise you, it’ll really pay off.

Then again, if this all sounds a bit overwhelming, why not give us a bell and get one of our master Storytellers to help craft your presentation story into a thing of beauty.

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