THE BLOG
05/20/2016 02:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Want Your Audience's Attention? Make Them Care

By: Debbie Fay

2016-05-20-1463768317-2924166-ThinkstockPhotos532256991.jpg
Image Source: ThinkStock

Let's face it; sometimes we've been in our business too long. We're so well-versed, so immersed, so totally completely "in it" that we can't remotely remember what it was like pre-obsession/thought leader/expert. While it's great to be super knowledgeable and enthusiastic about our message, it's not so great to dive right in and begin speaking about it without first ensuring it has meaning -- real, significant meaning -- for our audience.

If we're being honest with ourselves, we often assume, especially when we're asked to pitch or present our product or service, that our audience already knows the importance of it. We think it is our job to simply describe what makes us different, better, of more value than our competitor. We jump right into "all about us, our product, our service, our mission" before making sure it matters to them. No wonder we're getting blank stares, yawns, discreet (and not so discreet) phone surfing -- your audience is thinking, "Who cares?"

Instead, begin your presentation by drawing a "picture" for the audience, metaphorically speaking. A picture of their world, their goals and/or problems. Possibly a picture of their industry, their competitors, the economic environment they're facing. Rather than beginning with the "All about us and how great our stuff is" show, begin with their world, what they're worried about or aspiring to. This gets their attention. Why? Because it's about them. And that's what they care most about. Themselves. We need to show them, right from the beginning, that we care about them, too. We do that by drawing a picture of their world, completely relevant to them. Heads will be nodding as you draw this picture. Bodies will lean forward, eager to hear what your solutions, ideas, and suggestions are.

[Read More: Public Speaking Rules: Absolutes or Mere Guidelines?]

Occasionally, we must create relevance. Our audience may not be aware of a very real threat or a very real opportunity (solved or attained by our product or service, mission, etc). We must shine a big bright light on this threat or opportunity, explain it clearly and compellingly before we ever begin talking about our solution. We must create the interest, the relevance to them and their world. We must make them care.

A simple example? Years ago, my dentist wanted to persuade me to floss (as I'm sure your dentist wants you to do). He was a skilled enough persuader to understand that until I saw a real reason to floss, a relevance in my own life, the odds of me flossing were pretty slim. So he said this, "Listen, Debbie, we can always repair or recreate a tooth, but if the gums are destroyed, there's nothing we can do. If you don't take care of your gums, you'll lose your teeth." Needless to say, I've been flossing every day since.

Before your next presentation, whether it be a formal pitch or an informal informational one, imagine you are an audience member. Ask yourself: why would I care about this? Why does it matter to me? How will it positively affect my life/work/success? If you can't answer these questions, STOP, and determine the answers. These will form the beginning of your presentation the all important part of making them care about your message. Begin your presentation with that. Make sure you've drawn a compelling picture for them about them. Do that and you'll be heard.

Want more advice on how to be a public speaking pro? Listen to our Jam Session with Bloomberg anchor Betty Liu on how to master the public stage.

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Debbie Fay is the owner of bespeak presentation solutions, llc, providing presentation coaching, development and training to leaders and businesses worldwide. Her book, NAIL IT. Create and deliver presentations that connect, compel, and convince. is available from Amazon and other book retailers. For more info, contact dfay@bespeakpresentations.com

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