Targeting your presentations

Right then… let’s face it. Most presentations fail because (as I’ve said until I’m blue in the face!) presenters don’t know what it is they’re trying to do. I’ve posted about that before and I’ll post about it again next week but here are the basics.

  1. Decide what effect you want to have in your presentation
  2. Decide who you need to influence to make that happen
  3. Decide what you need to say to these people to make it happen
  4. Use that information to target your presentation.

Sounds simple, right? But like losing weight it’s simple-but-not-easy. (Dropping weight is simple, right?  Move more and eat less. But that isn’t easy.) This blog is all about point number two, to make it a bit easier.

What’s the big problem here?

I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said to me something like: I can’t target people because either I don’t know who’s going to be in the room but even if I do they’re going to be very different. I must admit, it’s a lot (LOT) easier to target if you’re not trying to impress everyone in the room.  Sure, sometimes that’s your target, but not always. Don’t assume it is, check. Here’s how we do the targeting ourselves.

Step 1 – categorise your audience

George Orwell's Animal FarmAs George Orwell (almost) said in Animal Farm all audience members are equal, but some audience members are more equal than others. And he was right. Try this typology and see if it fits your audience (note, this won’t work if your audience is genuinely a scattergun, but for anything that’s not this, go for it).

Decision makers – these are the people who actually decide whether or not the whatever-it-is-you-want-from-your-presentation is going to happen. If you watch The Apprentice in the UK, that’s Sir Alan Sugar. He decides who gets fired. Everything you say in the boardroom at the end of the program (if you’re on the losing team) should be targeted at making him sack someone else. Simple, really! These people are Top Dog.

Advisors – the Top Dog can’t be everywhere, all the time. They can’t know everything. The gaps between where the top dog can actually be and where they want to be is filled by these people, the Advisors. They don’t make decisions but they provide input and information for the Top Dog.

Fillers – these are people who (we find!) make up the majority of audience members. They’re often their because they think they should be, or for other reasons of their own: typically this reason includes avoiding doing real work, or wanting to be seen to be there by the Top Dog. Perhaps they’re aspiring Advisors. Perhaps they’re just too low on the food chain to say they don’t want to come to the meeting. Perhaps they’re just here for the tea and biscuits.

Step 2 – decide how to treat the segments

Do a bit of research about your audience so you know who’s what, if you can.

Top Dog is who you should be aiming at. Be nice. Make them the key focus of your presentation.  Don’t forget, of course, that they’re is often more than one Top Dog. Typically you might find there are two or three Top Dogs in a meeting of 12-15 people. Hit them with both barrels and follow them up after the event. Give them chocolates beforehand 😉

Typically Advisors will tend to be specialists. Your job for them, therefore, is to make sure they can tick their box for you labelled “Yes, they can do box XYX”. What you need to do this, therefore is some specialised and targeted content. You might consider a slide aimed at each of them, and hand them a follow-up handout with data customised for them. For example, in a sales pitch presentation you might want to have a slide which is targeted at the Head of Procurement. Their boxes are probably called

  • “Will they deliver on time and under budget?”
  • “Will they do it legally?”
  • “Do they tick our requirements for things like diversity?”.

A slide is great, followed by a handout with details of your systems for hitting targets and so on.  You’ll need a different handout for the Head of Security (or whoever!), of course. For example, a handout with case studies and your successful-completion statistics (or whatever) will address the first box head on.

In fact  the more specialised you can make the way you treat Advisors the more confident they will be in you and the more positively you’ll find them supporting your case to the Top Dog(s). Being specific for them helps reassure them that you get them and their issues.

Fillers. These are the least important people in the room. So long as you don’t offend anyone (in particular either of the other two groups) you can more or less treat this group as less important.

Step 3 – triage

Let’s be brutal. It’s a sad, sad truth that some people in your audience are just not going to do what you want them to do, no matter what. For some reason they’re too heavily invested in another way forward. That might just be because they’re overworked, or lazy, or because they have shares in your rival or just because they support a different football team than you! 😉  It doesn’t matter. The point is that you can’t change their minds and all the effort you put into doing that just takes away effort you can put into the other parts of the audience.

On the other hand, some people are soft targets and you’re pushing at an open door. Great. So long as you remember that their nodding heads might not be giving you accurate feedback of their intentions, you can spend less on this group, because extra effort here is wasted too. Do enough to keep them on board but don’t go over the top.

That leaves the group in the middle. These are the people who will do you what you want if your presentation convinces them.  It might be cynical, but this is where you’re going to get most bangs for your buck in terms of effort and focus.  Ignore the first group (so long as you don’t antagonise anyone any make it worse); do the minimum you need to keep the second group on your side; spend the time you’ve gained by doing both of those things to target this group.

Step 3 – apply the triage to the categorisation

Triage your Top Dog(s) and your Influencers.

The chances are, that by the time you’ve done this, you’ll have a very good idea of who the key people in the room are that you need to bend to your will with a killer presentation.  Essentially, your presentation should be crafted not to annoy too many other people but targeted at Decision Makers and Influencers in the ‘might agree’ category. That’s a lot easier a target to hit than “everyone in the room”! 🙂

Narrowing down who you need to influence like this makes it much (much!) easier to get your presentation content and delivery honed to what it needs to be, if you’re going to be maximally effective.

Is there a way of summing this up?

Of course! 🙂 Example of an effort modelDraw a matrix of how likely people are to agree with you on the horizontal, and how far up the food chain (fillers to decision makers people are) on the vertical. Concentrate your effort in the middle and towards the top.

[jbox color=’red’ title=’Later addition!’] A while after writing this I happened upon this podcast: In it, there’s a fascinating chat about how many people it takes to make a decision in business and how to target them so that you get the ‘right’ outcomes’. There’s a really interesting overlap with the points I’m making here (using different terminology) and a few other things beside. Have a listen!


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