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Want to grab your audience's attention? Talk about them, not you

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The following is an excerpt from Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World. 

If you’re wondering how you can check on your own audience-centricity, ask yourself this question and then let the answer help you in your planning and preparation: If an audience member is asked, “What did you think?” what would you want their answer to be?

As an example, when I deliver presentations or workshops at large conferences, my answer to that question would usually be: I want audience members to say, “Wow, I got some great insights and tips that I can put to use right away.”

I could easily deliver a canned “Effective Communications” presentation to every audience, but I always customize. I know my expertise and my material, and I’m always eager to share it, but then I think about each particular audience’s “what’s in it for me?” and I adapt my approach and material accordingly. I always want them to feel that they got something they can use right away.

I have on occasion been asked to speak about myself and my career. Naturally, this stops me dead in my tracks. After all, it’s not all about me, it’s about them. So in addition to what I’d want them to think about my talk, I also ask myself, “What is it about me or my career that could be beneficial or significant to this particular audience? What can I leave them with that might be helpful to them?”

So how do you take a topic that is all about you (or your expertise, your business or your project) and make it all about them?

Very simply, you need to do at least the first two of these three things:

First, know your audience. Even if you’re just making an educated guess, identify your listeners’ unique interests, concerns or biases.

Second, prioritize your content. That means prioritize what you say to them and then prioritize how — in what order, in how much detail — you want to say it. Avoid TMI; that’s presentation buzzkill.

Third, if you can, pinpoint a takeaway — a lesson, a moral of the story, a call to action. This is where some of those presentation catchphrases come in: “Have a big idea.” “Give ‘em the so-what.” “Identify your wow.” These slogans essentially refer to value. Given your topic, what do you have that’s of value to offer to your audience?