Establishing empathy for the other person’s perspective is one of the most important, and most difficult, things to do when you are preparing for a presentation or a meeting.
It’s so much easier to focus on the information you’re conveying than on what your audience might think or feel about it.
However, if you fail to frame your presentation from their point of view, they are unlikely to be moved by it. It’s like holding up a painting you expect your audience to admire, but holding it so it faces you, not them. You’re the only one who will appreciate it.
It’s arrogant, or at least inconsiderate, and they’ll know you haven’t made the effort to understand them. They’ll decide that checking their email is a lot more interesting and rewarding than listening to you rabbit on.
So how do you make sure you understand your audience's perspective?
Spending time immersed in their world, facing the challenges they face, is of course the best way. Many actors and writers do this to establish empathy with their characters.
However, there are also some role-playing exercises that can help. Jim Signorelli introduces one of these in his wonderful book, StoryBranding. He calls the technique an I AM statement.
Signorelli uses I AM statements as part of a process for creating a strong product brand, but I have found them to be extremely helpful in preparing presentations that resonate.
Essentially, you are role playing on paper, writing about yourself as if you were a particular member of your audience. Spend ten minutes pretending you are that person and write about who you are, what your life is like, what you care about, what you worry about, what pressures you face, what frustrates you, what magic solution you wish you had to solve your problem, what you find satisfying or rewarding, how you like to think of yourself.
Start with “I am…” and just let it rip. Try one for yourself (as yourself) first to get some practice. Then role play as a member of your audience.
You might be surprised at the insights you gain from doing this. It should help you turn that painting around so your audience can see it too.
I’d love to know how you go.