This is the story of the time I failed. I had been invited to speak at women’s event. As always, I asked some questions about the audience I’d be speaking to, and I was told it was an event for teenage girls and their mothers. Armed with that information, I prepared a message meant to challenge a generation of girls who had grown up on social media to view life without the filters and to shake off the conventions society places on us as women. On the night of the presentation, I was excited and ready, armed with a message I felt strongly about.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived and found that the vast majority of my audience was women over 65. I saw a total of two teenage girls. Before taking the stage, I quickly revised my notes as best as I could. I scratched out quips about Instagram and replaced social media metaphors, but there just wasn’t enough time to rewrite a message which was intended for a different audience. The message fell flat, and I left that night feeling like a failure.
Every speaker I know has a story like this about the time when the presentation didn’t work out like she thought it would. But that night taught me two specific things. Here’s what I learned.
Ask Better Questions
In a recent study of content marketing trends, 40% of those surveyed responded that it isn’t a priority for them to provide “the right content to the right person at the right time.” If you don’t know your audience, you can’t even begin to write content. It is crucial that speakers analyze who they will be speaking to.
I can’t fault the event organizer for telling me my audience was going to be teenage girls. That’s who they were thinking would show up. I assume full responsibility for not asking better questions. For that event, I simply asked, “Who will my audience be?” The organizer responded with, “We are hoping to reach teenage girls and their moms this time.” Hoping. This time. Those words should have clued me in to the fact that they weren’t exactly sure what the audience demographics would be and that a similar event had been held previously.
Here are the questions I should have asked regarding my audience: Who are you marketing the event to? Who is your intended audience? How sure are you that you’ll reach your intended audience? Who has historically shown up for events like this? Is there event registration information that might be available or beneficial to me as the speaker? Can I survey my audience? Questions like these would have given me more complete information from which to analyze and prepare for my audience.
If you are invited to speak before event registration has been sent out, you might ask to include a question or two within the registration that will provide you with specific information that will help you develop your content. If registration has already occurred, you might consider sending a brief survey to those registered. However, you won’t always have that option, in which case you should consider the next tip.
Prepare a Universal Message
In situations where you can’t gather audience information ahead of time or know for sure who will show up, keep your message universal. The University of Pittsburgh reminds speakers to “consider what pieces of information (or types of evidence) will be most important for members of different demographic groups.” The mistake I made was simple: I put all my metaphorical eggs in the same metaphorical basket. My message was intentionally targeted to one demographic. And the content I had prepared for teenage girls would not resonate with women who could be their grandmothers.
A targeted message for a specific audience is great, until a different audience shows up. In situations where you can be sure of your audience, by all means, write for that audience. But in situations where you can’t really be sure of who will attend, construct a presentation that is more universally appealing, one that will generally speak to whoever who shows up. Use illustrations and stories that will appeal to anyone regardless of age, gender, culture, or any group affiliation they might have.
My hope is that this information will save you from an experience like the one I had. Preparation is key when writing for your audience. The questions you ask and the work you do ahead of time directly influence the success or failure of your presentation.
Check out PresentationMentor.com for more information on how to prepare great content and present with confidence.