Your Most Important Job

Are you forgetting your most important job when you give a presentation? Forget the first thing that came into your mind: it’s not that. Your most important job has nothing to do with what you’re going to say, or your slides, or knowing who your audience is. It’s not even your being clear on the specific goals you created for the presentation or audience.

When speaking to a group of people, your most important job is to create a more compelling reality than what’s already going on in the minds of the audience. The other jobs I mentioned are important (and should be addressed later), but no combination of those jobs will give you the asset that’s most vital when you’re speaking to people: their willingness to leave the realities already going on in their minds, give you their undivided attention and choose the reality you’re presenting to them.

When you and the audience are one, you both share what I call a consensual reality, and now the likelihood of your message coming across is high. For this to happen, you must be clear on your goals. Your goals will provide you with the framework for the reality you’re going to present to the audience. In other words, you’ll be able to paint such a clear picture of this new reality that the audience will go where lead them. If the picture you draw, or the reality you establish isn’t more compelling than the everyday thoughts in the minds of the audience, they’ll stay right where they are, thinking about feeding the dog, or errands they have to run on the way home from work, or what they’re going to do this weekend. You’ve given them no reason to migrate to your reality from their own, so they sit and pretend to pay attention, all the while thinking about the dog, the errand, the weekend.

This is a waste of your effort, and of their time. As speaker, you’ll probably be able to sense how much of the audience’s focus you’ve captured. It’s a horrible feeling to be speaking and know that you don’t really have the full attention of your audience, and it can be tempting to think they’re not holding up their end of the bargain. Wrong. They haven’t let you down. You’ve let them down by not giving them an overwhelming reason to opt for your reality over their own.

This is easy to fix, and there’s no reason to ever put yourself and your audience in that position again. Here’s how to leave that unattractive prospect behind you forever, so that they next time you stand in front of an audience, you’ll command their full attention, and they’ll happily and willingly let you lead them. In other words, you and the audience will have become one. Start by answering this question: What do I want the audience to walk away with that they didn’t have before they heard my talk? State this in the most active terms possible. Passive statements like, “I want them to understand…” or, “I want them to feel…” won’t get you anywhereInstead, use statements like, “I want them to feel as passionate about this as I do.” Active, actionable goals will give you the fuel you’ll need to engage them. The audience must feel like you have something for them that they need. They can’t feel that way if you don’t.

The first thing you say to your audience has to give them a clear sense that you know where you’re going, that you’re able to take them with you, and that the trip is going to be fun, or at the very least, interesting. As an example, you could open with something like, “Twenty minutes from now, it’s my goal that you have a completely different view of x.” You’ve made a promise. All you have to do now is deliver on it. Paying close attention to your most important job will make your presentation more successful, and more fun, for you and your audience.