Be the Audience

By Heather Baldwin

Presentations 101 says the most successful presentations address audience members’ needs. Tony Jeary, founder of Tony Jeary High Performance Resources (, takes it a step further and says presentations will succeed “to the degree that we can successfully be like our audience.” In his book, Life Is a Series of Presentations (Simon & Schuster, 2004), Jeary discusses some specific elements of neurolinguistic programming (NLP) – the study and use of languages and their affect on the brain and behavior – as they relate to being like our audience and succeeding in presentations.

Mirror your audience. Next time you’re talking to someone with whom you have a high degree of rapport, take a look at how you are both positioned. Chances are you’ll find you are sitting or standing alike and are unconsciously mirroring each other’s facial expressions and gestures. You can use this concept in reverse by mirroring another person’s body language to build rapport. Start by matching the other person’s leg and lower body positions. It’s also easy to mirror the tilt of another person’s head. Jeary tells the story of Mike, an executive who is a master at mirroring his audience. When Mike talks to suits, he is like the suits. When he talks with field sales reps, he uses words they use, talks about his visits in the field and easily illustrates how his office work links to their world. Everyone loves him and he has moved rapidly up the company ladder.

Help your audience be receptive. How does you audience like to receive information? Are they visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners? Presenters who send their message using the right medium will boost rapport. Visual learners like to receive information visually – charts, graphs, photos or anything else they can see. Auditory communicators learn best through dialogue and discussion. Most love to listen to other peoples’ ideas and stories. Kinesthetic learners, who make up the smallest portion of our population, translate visual and auditory information messages into feelings to process the information. The key here is to connect emotionally with powerful stories and anecdotes. Just as you’d have the best chance of being understood if you talked in someone’s native language, when you communicate using audience members’ preferred sensory modality you have a better chance of connecting with them and of your presentation succeeding.

Say it like you mean it. How many times have prospects told you they liked your presentation, but your product is too expensive? Instead of going on the defensive, next time probe for information. Generalizations such as too many, too much and too expensive have no meaning unless they are further defined, says Jeary. So it’s important to establish what benchmark is being used for comparison. A good place to start is with the question: Compared to what? If prospects tell you the comparison is to their current system, you might find they’re comparing apples and oranges. Another good question to ask is: Who – or what or how – specifically? When prospects say they tried it before and it didn’t work, you might respond with: What, specifically, did you try?” Here’s another way to gather more information: Repeat the generalized word as a question. Suppose a client says: Your deliveryman is always late! You could reply with: Always? When the client then says, I guess he’s mostly late on Tuesdays, you’re much closer to solving the problem.