Preparing Your Audience

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A few weeks ago, a friend of mine and I went to an event to see an author (who does a lot of speaking) speak. We were so excited! It turned out he was speaking with another well-known writer. Fun surprise! And, it also turns out that this event was a fundraiser, and included an ask for (additional) money. Not such a fun surprise.

I'm a pretty go-with-the-flow kind of gal. But, my friend turned to me and said, "I thought our ticket prices were the donation. I don't like being surprised like that."

Yep - too many surprises. I have no idea if they made their donation goal or not, but if not I think it might be because they forgot this rule: prepare your audience!

Now - let me be clear: I have made this mistake before, which is probably why I'm sensitive to it. (And once you do it, you probably won't again because it just doesn't yield good results.)

And, we did know that our ticket prices were supporting this particular organization. But we didn't know we would also be asked for a further donation to the organization.

AND - for the record - I did donate. (I have done enough asks to have enough sympathy to give when people are willing to take the risk and ask.)

BUT - and this is a big BUT - I should have known what I was walking into.

It sets your audience up well when they know that at some point you're going to ask them for money. [Or that you're going to ask them to invest; or that you're going to ask them to do a particular thing.]  In fact, it makes the asking that much easier. It's that time, you've seen the impact we're having, we would be honored by your support. Please give. Having prepared your audience, you can by-pass some of the time-consuming onboarding, and be more direct.

It's not that different when you're setting up an agenda for a meeting, or when you're setting expectations for a pitch or presentation. If we want to move our audience, we have to know where they are (and how far it is from where we want them to be), and then be thoughtful about when and how we move them. It is our job as speakers (in any context) to be uber-conscientious of what our audience expects by setting some expectations-and prepare them to move.

Here's what you can do to prepare - and move! - your audience:

#1 - CLUE YOUR AUDIENCE IN

We audience members want to know what we're getting ourselves into. It helps us settle in, plan ahead, open ourselves up. Audiences can feel anxious when there is too much that is unknown. Are your materials clear as to what's happening, or what might happen? If it's a fundraiser, call it that; if it's a friend-raiser, call it that; if it's pitch, be really clear about what you are pitching. Does your branding and language give them a sense of what to expect? We leave a trail of clues about all of these things in our materials, in the spacing and event set-up, in the tone and vibe of the staff, in what we wear... Are you clue-ing your audience in for what you want them to expect - and ultimately do?

#2 -MEET YOUR AUDIENCE THERE, BEFORE BRINGING THEM OVER HERE.

Because if you start your speaking/event/meeting/pitch/sermon too far outside your audience's expectations, your road to connection is much steeper.

If plans changed, or you have heard feedback that people are surprised by something or you even see the reactions of your audience and you know they might not be ready for you to do what you want/should/have to do... well, lay it out there. Candid acknowledgment is appreciated - and also serves as a sit-up kind of moment. (Oh, hey, thanks for saying what I'm feeling right now.) Acknowledging where they are likely at tells your audience that you get it, you're in tune, you are CONNECTED.Your ticket prices have gone a long way toward supporting our organization - but we have an enormous opportunity that came up recently with a matching grant - and so we feel like we must take this chance to ask you to contribute even more, if you're willing. 

Whoa, that feels totally different than just interrupting this cool thing we actually came to see to surprise us with this thing that nobody likes (but we have to do) - the ask.

Respect your audience enough to meet them where they're at rather than assume they're where you're at.

#3 - PUSH YOUR AUDIENCE INTENTIONALLY

You can (and indeed, you should) push your audience's expectations. Add an element of surprise or play with the form and function a bit  - I mean, I am not one to stick to the tried and true just because. I love to delight and surprise! But step outside too far, too quickly? - and now you have a trust problem. Defenses go up, openness goes down. Connection is broken.

It should look sort of like this:

Audience Expectations
Audience Expectations

#4 - WOW YOUR AUDIENCE WITH THE SURPRISE

And then when you DO push/surprise them - make sure it is wow-worthy. Getting more than what I expected is exactly what we should be going for. THAT'S how you move your audience. If you push your audience outside those expectations clumsily, or it's a clunky or poorly-planned event and don't wow them with your content!?  - well, now you've just pissed off the very people who you were hoping to bring along for the ride.

The real bummer is that there were some great things about this event, but they didn't move me where they wanted me to go. I know Ann turned around and went back to her small circle of expectations, rather than open up to the larger circle of their ideas. If you can come meet me in that smaller circle first, I'm much more likely to open up with you to what is possible.