Know Your Audience and Build Empathy

Designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it “to whom it may concern.”  Ken Haemer, Presentation Research Manager, AT&T

Award-winning author and presentation expert Nancy Duarte has a new book out: HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations. Over the next few days, I will be posting an outline of the book’s 7 sections as well as zeroing in on a specific topic each day.

Section 1: Audience

  • Understand the Audience’s Power – your idea’s fate is in their hands
  • Segment the Audience – Focus on who matters most
  • Present Clearly and Concisely to Senior Executives – help them make big decisions on a tight schedule
  • Get to Know Your Audience – it’s easier to convince someone you know
  • Define How You’ll Change the Audience – what do you want people to believe? How do you want them to behave?
  • Find Common Ground – resonate through empathy

Get to Know Your Audience

Knowing people – really knowing them – makes it easier to influence them.

You are trying to influence them, right? If you’re not, forget the speech and just send a memo.

But if you’re really trying to influence them, you’ve got to connect with them. To connect with them, you’ve got to know something about them.

  • What are they like?
  • Why are they here?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • What gets them up in the morning?
  • How can you solve their problems?
  • What do you want them to do?
  • How might they resist?
  • How can you best reach them?

When you know you are doing a presentation – whether a weekly sermon, new initiative, or a committee report, do your people homework before you begin preparing your words. Only when you know WHO can you began to think about the WHAT.

People don’t fall asleep during conversations, but they often do during presentations – and that’s because many presentations don’t feel conversational.

When you really know your audience, you are engaging them in a conversation even if it seems one-sided. Knowing your audience well helps you feel warmly toward the people in the room, speak sincerely to them and help them want to listen to you.

Next: Message

This is Part 2 of a series looking at Nancy Duarte’s new book HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations

Part 1





Engage Your Audience, Sell Your Ideas, and Inspire People to Act

If I am to speak for ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now. – Woodrow T. Wilson

There are typically very few – if any – leadership positions in which the leader is a lone ranger with no teams to work with or report to, no organizational support, and no larger group to speak to on occasions.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are few leadership positions where the leader is constantly working with teams of all sizes, being supported by a few – or a few dozen – individuals, and is regularly speaking to a larger group.

One of those positions is a pastor.

When a pastor steps to the pulpit – in a 100 member church or a 10,000 member church, and everywhere in between – it would be easy to feel as if he were in a position of power. After all, he is up in front of the crowd, maybe even elevated on a stage, and people have come to hear him speak. The speaker is the star of the show, right?

Wrong. The audience is.

I would pause just to say that God is our ultimate audience, and everything we do as a believer is first to an audience of One. That, to me, is a given.

The speaker is not the star of the presentation – the audience is, because they will determine whether your idea spreads or dies, simply by embracing or rejecting it. You need them more than they need you. They have the control, and the speaker needs to be humble in his approach to speaking to them.

How, then, do you become an excellent presenter?

Nancy Duarte is CEO of Duarte, Inc. She teaches workshops on the art of presenting and is the author of two award-winning books: Slide:ology and Resonate. Wait a minute – better make that three!

Harvard Business Review has just published Duarte’s newest book, HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, and once again she has delivered a valuable tool for speakers everywhere – but especially pastors who stand up every week and deliver a presentation – a sermon – to their congregations.

Duarte’s Guide is broken into 7 sections as follows:

We live and work in a first-draft culture. Type a text or email – send. Write a blog entry – post. Throw some images together – speak.

According to Duarte, though, it’s in crafting and recrafting, in iteration and rehearsal that excellence emerges.

But, you say, I have so many other things to do and I can’t worry about becoming an excellent communicator. Guess what? Becoming an excellent communicator will help you get those things done.

Ready to start?

Next: Audience: Know your audience and build empathy

Want to read more by Nancy Duarte? Click here to read her “10 Steps in Preparing a Powerful Presentation” and also download a free summary of her book Resonate.

12 Best Books of 2012

Making a “Best of” list is always hard – it’s a very subjective process, driven by my personal tastes, professional needs, and plain curiosity.

I’ve always been a voracious reader – a cherished habit passed down to me by my late father. In the past year, though, I’ve been able to ramp it up considerably because of my role as Vision Room Curator.

It’s not only a pleasure to read, it’s part of my job description – how cool is that?

Even so, it’s also hard to narrow it a “Best of” list down: in 2012, my reading included:

  • 127 books checked out from my local library
  • 68 print books purchased
  • 31 books received for review
  • 75 digital books on my Kindle

I also perused dozens of bookstores on my travels, writing down 63 titles for future review and/or acquisition. There are also a lot of late releases just coming out that I don’t have time to take a look at – yet. Be that as it may, here is my list of my 12 favorite books published in 2012.

Outside In

  Outside In

Guest Experiences for ChurchWorld is my passion, and this book by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine will provide churches a “go-to” manual for years to come


Deep and Wide

Deep and Wide

Andy Stanley and Northpoint Ministries have a solid model that all churches would do well to study – not to duplicate, but to understand how to impact your community for Christ.


Center Church

Center Church

Tim Keller delivers a textbook for doing church; possibly the most important church theology/leadership/practical book in a decade


The Advantage

   The Advantage

Patrick Lencioni captures the concept of clarity (he uses the phrase “organizational health”) like no business thinker today


The Icarus Deception

   The Icarus Deception

Seth Godin’s most recent book is probably the most challenging personal one I’ve read – and that’s saying a lot!


The Lego Principle

   The LEGO Principle

Joey Bonifacio writes in a simple, profound way about the importance of “connecting” in relationships that lead to discipleship


Missional Moves

   Missional Moves

Rob Wegner and Jack Magruder in a quiet, unassuming way, illustrate how Granger Community Church is transforming into a community of believers reaching their community – and the world.


Lead with a Story

Lead with a Story

Paul Smith delivers a powerful tool to enhance the leader’s skill in storytelling.


Design Like Apple

Design Like Apple

John Edson delivers a stunningly designed book that challenges the reader to understand and utilize Apple’s principles of design



Better Together

   Better Together

Church mergers (and closings) are going to be a huge event in the next decade; Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird give an excellent resource on how to survive and thrive throughout the process.




Susan Cain writes the book I’ve been waiting for over 30 years – because I am an introvert leader.



Midnight Lunch

   Midnight Lunch

Sarah Miller Caldicott delivers a powerful primer for collaborative teamwork.



HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations

   HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations

Nancy Duarte is not just a great writer – she knows how to deliver a great presentation from the first idea to the final applause.



Okay, it’s not 12 – but it is a baker’s dozen!

Let’s see – there’s still over 2 weeks left in 2012 – plenty of time to find a good book – what do you recommend?

Stories Convey Meaning

Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information; more powerful and enduring than any other art form.

People love stories because life is full of adventure and we’re hardwired to learn lessons from observing change in others. Life is messy, so we empathize with characters who have real-life challenges similar to the ones we face. When we listen to a story, the chemicals in our body change, and our mind becomes transfixed.

Stories link one person’s heart to another. Values, beliefs, and norms become intertwined. When this happens, your idea can more readily manifest as reality in their minds.

Tell the story.

Adapted from Resonate, by Nancy Duarte

Change is…


Organizations are not alive in a literal sense – but they have to change and adapt in order to stay alive.

Nancy Duarte, writing in “Resonate,” talks about the life cycle of organizations – start-up, growth, maturity, and eventually decline. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

An organization should make continual shifts and improvements to stay healthy.

In order to do that well, leaders must excel at persuasion.

Movements are started, products are purchased, philosophies are adopted, subject matter is mastered – all with the help of persuasive presentations.

Presentations create a catalyst for meaningful change by using human contact in a way that no other medium can.

Go ahead – change the world.