How to Find an Audience’s Needs

By Heather Baldwin

How often have you heard about the importance of addressing the needs of the audience during a sales presentation? Probably more times than you’ve heard the word Iraq in the news lately. It’s great advice, of course, but how do you find out what the audience’s needs are? Ellen Kaye, author of Maximize Your Presentation Skills (Prima Publishing, 2002), recommends using one of two methods.

The first is a written survey. It should be brief – no more than five to 10 questions – and its results should not only shape the direction of your presentation, but also be quoted during your presentation to support your points. For example, if you’re a financial advisor talking to a group of potential clients, you might say: According to the survey I took prior to addressing you today, 75% of you do not have a long-term financial plan. Such comments, says Kaye, “give your speech a feeling of authenticity.”

As an alternative, she suggests picking up the phone and talking with audience members directly. That’s what one of her clients did when asked to give a sales and marketing speech to an association of boat manufacturers. After conducting a telephone survey with some potential audience members, the speaker discovered association members’ chief concern was the likelihood that prospects for new boat sales would be scarce in the upcoming season. Furthermore, because association members were all small businesses, they didn’t have money to pour into advertising.

With that information in hand, he started sifting through trade journals and association surveys and came across some interesting data. One survey showed that 12% of current boat owners would be in the market for a new boat within the next 12 months. “If you had 1,000 customers in your database, my client concluded that it was reasonable to assume 120 of them might be in the market to buy a boat in the next year,” says Kaye. “These stats were critical in getting the audience to accept the premise of the speech, which was to first focus on your own customer base for new sales before spending a fortune generating new customers.” All it took to launch that powerful message was a few phone calls.