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Getting Your Audience to Care

To explain anything to an audience, you first have to earn their attention. Hook them with an emotional plea, a good story, or a promise of a better future. Make sure you begin your presentation or document with issues that are relevant to them. We humans are naturally programmed to seek out meaning before we’re able to pick up on finer details. We listen to things that can affect our jobs, our health, or our home life. To get an audience to care, find something that interests them, then link it back to the subject of discussion.

Bringing meaning to audiences is the essence of effective communication. When producing any communication piece—whether it’s on paper or digital—it’s your job to make sure the content is relevant to the people who are on the receiving end.

I was taught an easy way to bring meaning to prospective clients at one of my first jobs. As a language center director with Berlitz International, I was trained on how to present information while “painting a picture” for prospective students on what their lives would be like with newly acquired language skills. If the people sitting before me could only imagine the benefits of the gift of a new language, goes the theory, it would be easier to convince them their investment would be well spent. We were taught how to sell using “fact” and “benefit” statements. First you tell them a fact (our language programs are fast) and follow it up with a benefit (that means you will speak Spanish before you leave on your trip).

Think the phrase “what this means to you” the next time you’re developing content or getting in front of a group. You don’t have to utter or write those same exact words, just use that phrase to develop a benefits-oriented mindset. Get the audience to try to imagine how they would profit from whatever it is you’re trying to sell them. Is there a way you can discreetly insert benefits into your statements? Can you figure out a way to make the features resonate by helping them see what your topic means to them?

Consider these feature/benefit statements as examples:
  • Amazon Web Service gives you access to Amazon’s massive infrastructure. What this means to you is you can use their resources to get otherwise costly services on demand instead of building applications yourself. This will save your company money.
  • NetJets offers charter flights for CEOs like you, who wish to avoid paparazzi or protestors. What this means to you is that your identity and destination will always remain confidential.
  • The Toyota Prius gets 49 miles per gallon. What this means to you is that you’ll not only spend less on gas, but you’ll be doing less damage to the environment.

“But I’m not a salesperson,” you may be saying to yourself. You may not be selling a product per se, but you are selling an investment in someone’s time and attention. So yes, you are a salesperson if you are creating content that needs to engage or influence. To hook your audience, think in terms of features and benefits. Ask yourself why they should care about the information you are to impart. If you can’t think of a reason to include a piece of information, maybe you shouldn’t include it.

Simple? Yes . . . but effective. Communicators need to spell out benefits for people on the receiving end. Hit them over the head with statements that help them understand what all the facts and figures mean to them. Don’t leave it up to your audience to figure out your subject themselves. As smart as your audience may be, chances are they aren’t doing the simple addition of putting together the ideas connected to your issue as thoroughly as you have. People pay attention when they comprehend there’s something in it for them. Do your job and help them get to the “aha” point of realization.

© 2014 Frank J. Pietrucha. All rights reserved. Excerpted from SuperCommunicator: Explaining the Complicated in a Digital Age by Frank J. Pietrucha. Used with permission of the publisher, AMACOM, a division of American Management Association.

You can hone your presentation and writing skills at these AMA seminars:
Strategies for Developing Effective Presentation Skills

Effective Executive Speaking

How to Sharpen Your Business Writing Skills 

About the Author(s)

Frank J. Pietrucha is president of Definitive Communications. He has over 25 years of experience helping start-ups, established companies, and government agencies make challenging topics more accessible. His new book is SuperCommunicator: Explaining the Complicated in a Digital Age (AMACOM, 2014).