Presentation targeting – the three by three

I believe presentations should change something – otherwise they’re just a pastime. So, things that improve the likelihood of change are good (all other things being equal 😉 ).  And targeting your presentation makes it more likely to do that. After all, shooing an arrow is more likely to hit the target if you aim, right? (Generally speaking – I do know some people where that might not make any difference at all!)

So let’s talk about two ways of targeting your presentation.

Presentation targeting tool #1 – aiming at the key people

scary boss at your presentation

I know there are blurred lines between boundaries, but for the sake of simplicity, here’s a way of thinking about who you should target your presentation at. Some people in your audience are the key ones – the decision makers… the people who are in a position to actually make the changes you’re presenting about, whether it’s because they own their own companies or because they’re in charge of a shift/budget/whatever or for any other reason. Pretty obviously these are your number one target.

Then there’s the umbra of people around them who don’t actually make changes, but who can influence those people who do. They’re your second target. By all means aim for them, but not if it means your presentation isn’t focussed on the first group.

Then there are the ‘also rans’. They’re the people who’re at your presentation because:

A cup of tea
  • they want to be seen to be there
  • they feel they need to be there
  • they’d rather be there than working
  • it’s raining outside and you were offering free coffee.

These are very often the bulk of your audience, in terms of numbers. And yet they’re not the people you should be aiming at. Sadly though, because most presenters judge how well a presentation went by the reaction of the bulk of their audience, the is the very group that tends to get more attention from the presenter. But let’s be honest, so long as it doesn’t put off the people in the first two groups to see you doing it, you can safely ignore this last group in terms of the impact of your presentation. (The feel-good of your presentation is a different matter, I admit!)

So far, so good – it’s not rocket science to target your presentation at the people who matter. (But remember that most presenters don’t and ask yourself, honestly, if you’re guilty of crowd pleasing at your presentation by keeping the last group happy!)

Presentation targeting tool #2 – aiming at the open people

Let’s talk triage.

It’s a medical term, originally, when a doctor would look at a crowd of patients and decide who to treat. Suppose you’re an emergency surgeon suddenly over-run with people who need treating – you can’t treat them all, so you split them into three groups:

  1. those who are so badly injured they will die, no matter what you do
  2. those who will die without your treatment but who will live if you treat them
  3. those who will live, even if you don’t treat them.

Groups one and three are a waste of resources, so you can’t treat as many in group two. It’s not nice to leave group one to die and it’s not easy to ignore group three, but group two is – logically – where you should concentrate.  So it is with presentations.

Indulge me with a personal example. I recently gave a presentation (about making better presentations, obviously) that was remarkably well received (so well received in fact that even my wife could barely critise it!). As part of that presentation I exploded the myth of the VAK model. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry, just know that it’s a popular piece of tosh about making presentations. Some of the audience already knew the VAK model was empirically invalid, some were open to exploring the idea of that and some were so wedded to the VAK model that nothing I could do would change their mind.  If I provided data which blew the VAK model up, my data must be wrong!

One of them, for example, had a business that she’d run for over 10 years, selling VAK testing kits.

Put yourself in her shoes. Was she going to say:

  • You’re wrong. I believe in VAK


  • You’re right. Everything I’ve been doing for the last ten years is snake oil!

It’s not hard to imagine what she opted for, sadly.

Take some time before (and during) your presentation to consider who is in which segment of your audience. Clearly I had little or no chance to convert my VAK-seller, so any time I spent focussing on her during my presentation would:

  • drag down my confidence
  • damage the rapport I could build with the rest of the audience
  • reduce the time I could spend working on the “open” members of the audience
  • give her some credibility by being seen to be focussing on her.

The other temptation, particularly if you’re nervous or a novice presenter, is to focus your attention of the third group in my triage… these are people who’ll give you positive feedback and make you feel your presentation is going well. But they don’t justify having much of your attention precisely because they’re already inclined to agree with you!  All you need to do in your presentation is not ‘un-convince’ them!

Presentation targeting magic – the intersection matrix

So far so good – both of those tools for targeting your presentation are powerful and make your life as a presenter much easier. But let’s add magic – by intersecting them. In the table below I’ve split idea #1 down the table, and idea #2 along the rows.

Decision makers who’re already on your sideDecision makers who are open to dataDecision makers who are closed
Influencers who’re already on your sideInfluencers who are open to dataInfluencers who are closed
Chair fillers who’re already on your sideChair fillers who are open to dataChair fillers who are closed

The real magic happens when you think about which of those nine sets of people in your audience you need to target your presentation at. After all, not audience members are created equal.  Pretty clearly you should first-and-foremost target your presentation at the middle of the top row. So much is obvious. Effort spent on the left hand side of the top row is at best inefficient and means you have lest time/energy for other things. Effort spent in the top-right box is wasted effort.

That simple idea means your presentation can now be much, much more targeted. No longer are you trying to please everyone – you’re trying to influence a much more specific subset of ‘everyone’.

But Simon! It’s not that simple

No, of course it’s not, just like an toy train set isn’t as complicated as running the national railway network, but it’s a model. It’s a start. It’s a way of thinking.

Problems you might face are that where I’ve drawn people in neat boxes you have them blurred and sitting on the fence – straddling lines. You might have them shifting from one box to another at different times of day, frankly! 🙂

And you might not be so easily able to tell who’s in what box – but what have you got to lose by thinking about it and trying!?

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