Why You Should Never Picture Your Audience in their Underwear

Former baseball player Jose Canseco recently gave a press conference and only one person showed up.

The caption under the photo accompanying the article says, “Well, at least he only has to picture one person in their underwear.”

Did you take a speaking class in high school or college? Were you told to picture your audience in their underwear?

That’s terrible advice.

Think about the rationale behind it. What’s being implied is you should mock your audience and put them down so you can feel superior and not get nervous.

A far better plan is to see your audience as allies, not enemies. This isn’t you against them. Audience members want this to be time well spent as much as you do.

One of the best ways to do that is to showcase them.

I had an opportunity to do just that during a recent luncheon keynote at the American Express OPEN and SCORE Small Business Speed Coaching event, held at the Washington DC convention center.

I went around interviewing participants in the morning, asking them about their businesses and helping them craft intriguing business names and elevator pitches. I asked several if they’d like to come up on stage during my keynote to share their instant success stories. Several eagerly agreed.

Zack got up and told the group he didn’t have a name for his business when he arrived, but now, after brainstorming his enterprise (which connects U.S. municipalities with African communities to develop their water, electricity and roads), he proudly announced what we had come up with . . . ResourceAfrica.

Zack was thrilled because he’d been able to reserve the URL ($8.95 at GoDaddy.com), and had already received enthusiastic feedback about this instantly understandable name with a key word (resource) that works both as a verb and a noun.

I shared a few more POP! techniques on how to build a business that breaks out vs. blends in, and then called up Fola. When I had asked Fola earlier what she did, she responded, “I’m a project manager.”

Hmmm. I asked playfully, “Want to work on that?”

She smiled and said, “Go ahead.”

I told her, “The two most important words in an elevator pitch are, ‘For example.’ A recent real-life example of a client who benefitted from your product or service changes an elevator speech from a dry monologue into an ‘I’ll have what they’re having’ dialogue.

I asked Fola, “What’s a soup-to-nuts example of a project you managed that turned out well?”

Suffice it to say, after a few minutes of coaching , Fola’s elevator pitch became, “I’m a project manager. For example, a billion dollar pharma company approached me 3 years ago to oversee the public launch of a new drug. I was able to help bring that project in under budget and ahead of schedule. The CEO called me personally to thank me — and that’s what I can do for you and your organization’s projects.”

See the difference? That elevator pitch is under 20 seconds, it indicates the level of client she works with and showcases her impressive, proven track record of results. Best yet, she seques back to the listener with how she could serve them. Well done.

The organizer of the event emailed me afterwards to say, “Fantastic job, Sam, as evidenced by the gaggle of people following you around for the rest of the day.”

Are you speaking at a conference, business luncheon or training workshop in the near future?

POP! Your program and make it a win-win-win so meeting planners, participants and sponsors feel it’s time and money well spent.

Interviewing audience members beforehand and featuring their success stories during your presentation, (with their permission), is one way to make your session about their needs and interestes, not just your own.

So, forget about picturing audience members in their underwear. Picture them on the platform, standing right next to you, right where they belong.

  • Thanh Lu

    Excellent post! I like the fact that you have examples. Many other similar posts have “what to do” but not “how to do.” Reading specific examples really drive the idea home immediately.

    I’ll remember this next time I blog as well. Examples, examples…

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