There are three things you should know about me.
- I am a pop culture junkie. And way back – before I had kids, pets, a full-time job, and a house built in the 1880s – I loved nothing more than to curl up on my deck with a glass of wine to read People Magazine. These days I am eternally grateful to the Huffington Post for allowing me to get my pop culture fix in one minute intervals. At least I know who the Kardashians are and what they are up to.
- I am a native Californian who made New England my home over a decade ago and learned wicked quickly that some things are just sacred: Fenway, Boston sports, Dunkin Donuts, Whoopie Pies, and anyone from New England who has made it big.
- I am into simulation theory, which suggests that our lives and our world are really part of a computer simulation and that we – the participants – are totally unaware. Remember The Truman Show? It’s kinda like that.
So when I came across this article a few months back, “Matt Damon tells MIT Grads to ‘Drop Everything and Solve’ the World’s Problems” – a smash up of Huff Post, Matt Damon (definitely New England), and simulation theory – I couldn’t resist.
Ok. In the interest of full disclosure, I made that very last part up. This article was my first exposure to simulation theory and even though it is a pretty cool theory to think about, what I really thought when I read this article was, “Matt Damon’s a freaking genius who totally knows his audience.” We’ll get back to that in a minute.
If you’ve read any of our previous blog posts you know that the audience is a revered entity, it is la cosa mas importante (the most important thing). It is the entity around which we make all of our presentation decisions, and it is the key in creating audience-centric (versus presenter-centric) presentations that achieve the presenter’s defined goal.
We’ve written several blog posts about how to achieve the audience-centered mindset (3 Great Reasons Not to Wing Your Presentation, 5 Ways a Great Presentation is Like Dining Out, What’s In It For Me? Or the Audience?), and several more about how to represent data in a way that is meaningful to audiences (Beginner’s Guide to Displaying Data, Bring Your Data to Life) – (thanks, Robin!).
And now it’s time for the next step: analyzing your audience so you can create a tailor-made presentation for them. By asking, then answering, some questions about your audience you can create a presentation that speaks to them by using stories, examples, analogies, and activities that will make your content come alive and will help your audience experience your desired transformation.
Think of it as creating an audience avatar, or a figure who represents your typical audience member.
To make this easy on you, we’ve got a set of questions to help you out. Grab a pen and paper and let’s get this done.
Questions to Ask When Creating Your Audience Avatar
1. What is the problem I can help my avatar solve? This touches back to presentation goal. In other words, what are the benefits the audience will receive from spending their time with you? What will they get out of it? How will your content improve their lives? What is the transformation they will experience as a result of your presentation?
2. How much do they know about the topic? Do they know a little, or a lot? Knowing how much your audience knows will enable you to determine the level of detail you cover in your material. If your audience has a mastery of the topic you can provide more detail than if your audience has a rudimentary understanding. If it’s a mix you’ll need to figure out how to bring everyone up to a common level of understanding.
3. Are there misconceptions about my topic – or elements of it – I need to clear up? Is this a case where the general public (and audience) thinks one thing about a topic, but the experts think or evidence points to another…and you need to clear it up? What might those misconceptions be? Common modern day misconceptions we’ll take a second to clear up here: Napoleon Bonaparte was not short (he was 5’7”), the fortune cookie is not a Chinese invention (it is a Japanese invention), Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day (Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain on September 16).
4. What are the relevant demographics? What is the age, gender composition, socio-economic level of my avatar? Are they employed? In what field? Are they married? Do they have kids? Do they live in the city or in a rural area? What is the literacy level? Does your audience have any special needs?
5. What are their interests? Hobbies? How do they spend their free time? What Facebook pages do they like? What websites or magazines do they read? What causes or charities do they support?
6. What’s their typical day like? What are their daily challenges and pain points? What do they enjoy most about their day?
The details you uncover while creating your avatar are the ones that will allow you to really zero in on the stories, analogies, and examples that will be most meaningful to your audience. A younger audience may resonate with a Minecraft example; an older audience may jive with Ms. PacMan. A group of single men will likely not have the same appreciation as mothers for a story about your toddler. A subway analogy will fall flat in areas where there isn’t even any public bus service. If you have a mixed audience then you may need to come up a level and find an example or story that works for a broader range, or you could include two stories or examples to make the same point.
So what does this avatar look like for the 2016 MIT graduate avatar Matt Damon could have created?
Let’s look at how he may have answered these questions.
1. What is the problem I can help my avatar solve? The world is big and complicated and because you (avatar) are part of the world they are your problems too. We need the best and the brightest to solve those issues, to turn toward the problems they see.
2. How much do they know about the topic? The problems we are talking about are politics, economics, poverty, preventable disease. MIT grads have a good framework for understanding these issues but may need more exposure to how these problems affect the majority of the world’s residents.
3. Are there misconceptions about my topic – or elements of it – I need to clear up? Yes. One misconception is that there is time…that these problems don’t need to be solved now. Another is that because you (avatar) may not see these issues everyday they don’t affect you. The reality is that we need you to drop everything and solve these problems now.
4. What are the relevant demographics? Undergraduate and graduate students, most in their 20s or early 30s; 45% female, 55% male; most without kids and single; live in Boston area; high literacy level; not employed full time, capable of making impactful change.
5. What are their interests? Technology and related fields including science, math, engineering. Goals are to make a difference in the world through their unique contributions.
6. What’s their typical day like? Attending classes, research, studying, lots of time in the library.
The next step is to use your avatar to help you find the the stories, examples, and analogies best suited for them. And this is where Matt scored gold.
Remember the simulation theory I talked about in the opening of this post, the one that posits the world is actually a computer simulation? Matt incorporates simulation theory into the framework for his speech and uses it as a metaphor for mobilizing the 2016 MIT graduating class into taking action that matters.
Because he knows his audience he knows that most are familiar with simulation theory (MIT professor, Max Tegmark, teaches simulation theory on campus), that most are likely to have an interest in the theory (they are MIT grads, after all), and he knows they have the capability of applying this theory to other theoretical situations (their future, for example). Bingo.
Admittedly, Matt’s got a leg up on all of us with the creation of his MIT avatar because he grew up in the neighborhood and knows the student profile well (Good Will Hunting, anyone?), but don’t be discouraged. Using these questions makes creating your audience avatar easier than you think.
And it can be wicked fun.