Pamela Slim


Design with the End in Mind: Connect with Your Audience Long Before You Enter the Room

Key Takeaways

On preparing for a presentation:

The first thing that I think of whenever I’m approached to do a presentation or do some kind of a workshop or even a webinar is to immediately go back and ask questions about who is in the audience. The secret to everything about really connecting with your audience is to know whom it is that you’re really speaking to and to begin to really understand and in a certain case inhabit what their reality is.

If you’re coming in and you’re doing a talk about leadership, you want to understand how specifically does leadership show up within that group and that organization. What are the questions they have on their mind? What keeps them up at night? What are the really very significant personal, internal struggles when we’re talking about big things like innovation or leadership or personal change or careers?

They’re very broad and actually quite meaningless terms. Where things are really going to come to life is where you connect with the emotional vulnerabilities of people in the audience, so the parts of them really understanding that content in a very specific context that kind of brings them a little bit of discomfort.

The only way that you’re going to know that is by first digging in and trying to figure out as much as possible about who is this group. What’s their culture like? What are the different struggles and problems that they have? That’s the base from which then you can begin to build your own story.

On getting people fired up:

I think that’s what lights up anybody who is excited about speaking or presenting, is that you not only just get people fired up about an idea, but you also give them ideas about specific things that you can change. If you know nothing about what their reality is and you’re totally guessing, that’s often where you’re not going to feel like connection with them nor they with you. It always has to be the starting point.

... People get fired up by concepts, but they’re really going to begin to internalize the message and become a fan and an advocate when you help them to do something differently, when you help them to take a specific action.

On turning inspiration into action:

People are actually really hungry for very specific actionable advice that they can implement.

What I like to do, thinking of nowadays, especially with social media, where a talk doesn’t have to end when the talk ends, you can say, which I love to do sometimes, “I’m going to put out a challenge to you. If all of you have a meeting tomorrow, how many people in the room are willing to take a risk and to try this thing tomorrow in your meeting? What I would love is when you do it, can you tweet me and give me some kind of an answer? How did it work? Let me know that it happened.”

Depending upon who is in the audience, where you have good engagement with them, that can get people excited. That’s a way to be continuing that learning and really having your message live on, because where you are somebody who is trying to affect change, it’s usually not just going to be with that one moment in which you’re showing up on stage.

Professional speakers nowadays have that. You want them to come back, take action, get excited, go back to your website, engage with you, learn more. But fundamentally you want to deliver in that one talk relevant things that are really going to make their life immediately better.

On building trust:

I actually would love it when the very surly, smart software engineer would raise their hand from the back of the room when I was delivering some kind of HR related management course or something and completely really drill holes in my topic.

What I loved was being able to just step back objectively and say, “Let’s look at that. Let’s look at these concerns, and let’s really map it. Let’s understand where some of these points that you’re talking about may be totally valid.” There was nothing that I ever did that was more powerful for building trust with that very difficult population.

Where you’re not afraid of that kind of conflict, where you have prepared for challenges to your ideas, that is where you actually begin to engage and begin to experience some magic within the room, because you’re not just trying to force your idea on people. You’re trying to meet halfway and to create kind of a new experience that they can make their own if they trust what it is that you’re sharing.

On dealing with people who shake things up:

There are ways that you can learn how to kind of wrap something up that still maintains your power. But fundamentally, from a preparedness perspective about your content, the best term I can think of is from my friend Bob Sutton, who is a management professor at Stanford and has written a bunch of great books.

He calls it having strong convictions weakly held. You could be really passionate about your message. You can be as best informed as you can. You can have experience that backs up what you talk about, but you are always willing to have a really intelligent argument that can sway you and can change your mind.

I think that’s actually a position of great power, true power, because all of us need to have humility about ideas. Nobody has all the answers. That’s often what shuts us off to personal and professional growth, is where we think that we’re the only one that has the right answer.

On presenting as a full-contact sport:

Presenting is a full contact sport, like you have for any kind of athletic pursuit. If you just focus on the message, which is what most people do, just preparing your slides and repeating the message, and you don’t focus on getting yourself physically prepared, you can feel much more anxious. Part of it is having some kind of physical practice, whatever it is, walking or yoga or tennis or martial arts, anything that you like that is going to release stress and get you in the zone.

What I often do before a big speaking engagement is to make sure that I’m doing something like a strong yoga class, or when I was really training martial arts all the time, do a really intense physical workout. It’s putting yourself in the physical position of feeling very strong and grounded and capable, is the kind of immediate memory physiologically that you want to walk in with.

 What does it mean to speak like a pro?

Being able to get my work in the hands of others in a way in which they can take inspired action. That’s what it means. I was just having dinner with a friend of mine in New York last week. He asked me that big question that really smart people tend to ask, which is, “What’s your big, huge, audacious vision 10 years from now? What will you feel like you really want to have impacted?”

The only answer I could think of in the moment was that those kinds of tools that I have created through my books, through Body of Work, a perspective in how people can know about career development, is actually internalized. People have the skills in all segments of our society all around our globe, that people, they live it, they breathe it.

They don’t have fear around their career. That really is—my ability to do that is going to be based on my ability to communicate the message in a way that allows people to be inspired, but actually to take action.

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