Know your audience and do not rabbit

Last week my wife and I did something unusual for us – we went on what amounted to a coach tour. It was interesting and informative. Being a tour, we had a tour company representative or courier to accompany us, and naturally as we travelled on the bus she told us about what we were going to see and commented on the scenery and history. The lady was well meaning and herself quite well informed on most matters, but the trouble was she talked too much giving a vast amount of information, some of which was of questionable relevance.

Much of the historical detail we already knew because we and our fellow travellers were from the British Isles, and the tour was within the British Isles. Consequently we were all very familiar with most of the facts supplied, and the content of her talks would have been more suited to foreigners such as visitors from North America.

The second error the lady made was the the length of her presentations. It was as though she felt obliged to fill every moment of her and our time together talking to her captive audience. Much of what she said seemed unimportant, but if it had been important she would have bored us into paying little attention. I was not the only one who fell asleep during one of her lengthy discourses.

The third and most cardinal mistake our tour leader made was not to take into account the sensitivities and feelings of her listeners. Many of us had lived through quite a lot of history which would certainly not have left us untouched. Hence some of us including I on one occasion felt quite upset at some of the references made.

In a sense this is elementary stuff, but a useful reminder. I give presentations to several different groups. Some are in my own profession, some are fellow professionals in other disciplines, and others are potential customers or people whom I have met through networking. What we say and the information we give must depend on our audience. There is no point in my “blinding people with science” if they are not in my business or one allied to it. On the other hand, if I am talking to a business peer group, they will expect content of a higher technical level and perhaps very specific to their needs. One has to keep people interested and help them with the sort and level of information for which they are looking. Also, it is important not to go on too long, but to conclude when one has said just enough, and to still have the audience’s interest to ask questions. If they are snoring as I probably was in the coach, the speaker has failed, and even worse, has gained a reputation as a bore.

Much of this also applies when seeing clients or prospects. Of course, listening is then more important than talking, but when we do speak, it must be at the right level to give any information in a form which can be understood, and to make the person comfortable with us. Know your audience and don’t rabbit on!

© Jon Stow 2009

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3 Responses to Know your audience and do not rabbit

  1. This is a great article – thank you Jon.

    I’m giving my first freelance presentation tomorrow evening and am really looking forward to it and hoping it will lead to more presenting.

    The audience will be people who have just started, or are planning to start, a new business, so no accountantese 🙂


  2. Jon Stow says:

    Thanks very much, M. Good luck for tomorrow night.

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