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Tell them what they want to hear!


By Daniel Kingsley

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I can think of nothing an audience won’t understand.  The only problem is to interest them; once they are interested, they will understand anything in the world.

Orson Welles


Give the people what they want and they’ll come.

George Jessel


Your audience has come to your presentation for a reason.  Give the people what they want!

This may seem far too obvious to spend 1500 words speaking about, but a very large number of speakers neglect to properly include their audience’s point of view when designing their talk.  They concentrate on telling their audience what they want them to know, but forget to include what their listeners are interested in hearing about.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s really important to be clear about what you want to convey to your audience and to make sure you say it.  It’s so important that I wrote an entire blog piece about it last month.  But as one of my favourite teachers always says, “it’s always both”.

Ideally, what you are looking for is to find the intersection between what you want to say and what they want to hear.

So how do you make sure that you fully include your audience’s needs and point of view?  Put yourself in their shoes – (almost) literally.


Put yourself in their shoes

When I’m helping my clients to do this in coaching sessions, I use a powerful technique from NLP called perceptual positions.*

In using this technique, you literally view the situation from 3 different points of view – yours, your audience’s and that of a neutral observer.  Now, you can’t actually inhabit another person’s mind, but the closest we can get is to physically change our position in the room (e.g. sitting on a different chair) and imagine being one of these other people listening.  If possible, you attempt to sit the way they would sit and feel the way they would feel, by way of seeking to fully get “into their heads”.

It’s important that we physically make a shift, because this is a signal from our conscious mind to our subconscious mind that we are letting go of our own perspective and taking on that of another.  It may sound slightly odd, but it really works.


Be specific

If possible, choose a specific member of your audience that you wish to “be” in order to gain this perspective.  If you know someone who is going to be there who you think would be a good “test person”, choose them.

A good test person is one who is persuadable.  If you are trying to convince your audience of something, this person needs to be someone who is not yet convinced, but also someone who is open to changing their mind.  In elections in the UK we have the concept of “swing constituencies” or marginal seats, in the USA it’s swing states.  These are the areas that might change their political allegiance, if a given political party can do a good enough job of persuading them.

If you don’t actually know the identity of those coming to your talk, you can imagine someone who would be a good person and (as best you can) imagine taking on their identity.  Give them a specific gender, name, age, occupation and point of view.

E.g. “So my person is Sarah.  She’s a 43 year old graphic designer who lives in the home counties, with her husband and two children.  She’s very curious in finding out about my topic, but is concerned that it’s all a lot of nonsense”.


Assume the position

Now stand up from where you are sitting when you were considering your own point of view and imagine taking on this other person’s point of view.  Sit in a different chair in the room or move your chair somewhere else in the room.  Sit differently to how you would usually sit – ideally sit the way you would imagine they sit.  This will help you get into their mindset more fully.


Answer the questions as them

If you have a coach, your coach would now address you by their name and ask you a series of questions to ascertain this person’s point of view.

E.g. “Now Sarah….what do you really want to hear here?”  If you’re not working with a coach do your best to adopt a similar attitude – of being them (as best you can) for 10 minutes or so.  This is a bit like method acting!

By the way, anyone can be your “coach”.  If you have a friend, colleague or relative who can ask you the questions, it’s even more powerful than doing it for yourself.  Your coach can also write down your answers.  Don’t worry if there isn’t anyone around who can help – this works perfectly well done by yourself too.


These are the questions

We now need to ascertain the point of view of our audience, via the proxy of the person we have chosen.  Let’s imagine the speaker’s name is James and the audience member is Sarah.  Answer these questions as Sarah:

  1. So Sarah, with regard to James’ topic what’s your initial position?
  2. (a) What do you not want to hear in his talk? (b) What do you not want to see (in terms of visuals)?  (c) What would close you off from being involved?
  3. (a) What appeals to you? (b) What do you want to hear?  (c) What do you want to see? (d) What would keep you interested and involved?
  4. (a) What is required here for you to be convinced? (b) What would the speaker need to consider.  [Do they need to include facts and figures, stories, testimonials, graphs, diagrams?]
  5. (a) What are the benefits of being convinced? (b) Are there any risks to being convinced?

Once you’ve answered all these questions and written down the answers you can stand up and shake off the character you’ve been playing for the last 10 minutes.

If you wish to, and you have time, you can pick another audience member to “be” with a different point of view.


Take a neutral view

To complete the basic perspectives, it’s really useful to get into the head of a neutral observer.  Who would understand enough about the subject matter of the talk and the audience to be able to see you giving the talk, give you feedback about how it’s going and how you could improve the content and/or delivery?

Would it be a colleague from another team who doesn’t have an axe to grind, an industry journalist who you could imagine reporting on the talk, a friend or mentor?  They don’t need to be someone who would actually be allowed to be present at the talk.  For the purposes of this exercise we can imagine they have been invited and have signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement!

Once you’ve decided on who this ideal neutral observer is change your position in the room again and this time stay standing.  Imagine you have gone up to an imaginary balcony and you can see yourself giving the presentation and the audience listening to the presentation down below.  (We are taking a birds-eye view here).

Once again, stand the way they would stand and answer the questions the way they would answer. As always it’s important to change something about your body language to send a message to your subconscious that you are “being” someone else.   If you have a coach, they will speak to you by your temporarily adopted name and will write down your answers.

Here are the questions:

  1. Imagine that you can see the speaker there. What do you notice about them?
  2. Now that you have a good perspective to observe the audience as they listen, what do you notice about them?
  3. Now that you’ve been able to watch and listen, what advice do you have to offer?

Once again once you’ve done this you can shake off this character and return to your original position.


What would your boss say?

If you have time, you can take a final viewpoint or your boss, the CEO or the company.  This last external viewpoint is completely optional.


Advice from the coach

If you have a coach (or a friend or colleague adopting this role), it’s great to get their point of view at this stage.

The question for the coach is:

After hearing all of this, what positive advice pops into your mind for the speaker?


Bringing it all together

There is now one final series of questions for yourself:

  1. Now that you have received (at least) 3 points of view on your talk, what has seeing things from all these different perspectives given you?
  2. What has become clearer for you?
  3. What does this mean for your presentation?

How was it for you?

I’ve used this technique and series of questions dozens of times with workshop participants and coaching clients and they have yielded really helpful results every time.  Remember to start with the sequence of questions in my previous blog post – “What do you really want to say?” which will help you discern your own point of view and your most powerful messages.

I’d love to know how you get on with this method.  Let me know in the comments below.  Good luck and happy planning!


We cover this technique in detail in part 2 of our Foundation public speaking courses in London and I regularly use it with my 1-2-1 coaching clients.  Contact us if you’d like to find out more about our courses or 1-2-1 coaching with me.


* With deep gratitude to Jennet Berghardt and Koos Wolcken who first taught me this technique many years ago.



Daniel Kingsley
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