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Audience Empathy

Talk to people, not at them.

Getting your message across is only part of a conversation, speech or interview.  

One of the most disheartening moments for a company is when they speak to several journalists and none of them result in an actual article or mention.  There are many reasons this happens - stories get bumped, journalists don't care, something changes in the media landscape.  But one thing that we have noticed lately is that spokespeople are not trained to deliver their message.  Oh, we create briefing docs, read recent articles, and write out talking points. And many of us are on point.  Sometimes we are so on point that we become machines of marketing speak and we forget there is a human on the other line.  We also forget that the human on the other line has a job to do. In other words, we don't have Audience Empathy - we spend our time talking at the audience vs. engaging the journalist in a conversation that understands what they are trying to achieve and making the call a win-win.  What the hell am I talking about? Bluntly, you need to stop doing these 10 things. I'm about to flame on.

  • Not prepping for interviews and briefings: Before you get on a call with anyone, prep for it like you would any customer or VC call.  Get your documents together early and send them before the call.  Make sure to read the most recent articles, catch up on their tweets and learn something interesting about the person.  Not only is a lack of preparation annoying, but it is disrespectful and a waste of everyone's time if you don't know why you are on the call.
  • Ignoring the audience’s mindset: Look, this is the 15th call that journalist has done today, and they have turned in 8 stories already.  Tighten up your story so they can follow you and don't take us on the wandering roadmap of your mind in order to make a point.  Or it's 2pm and you’re about to take the stage at a conference and they served Mexican food. Half the people ate chimichangas and refried beans, their blood has left all extremities, and you are talking to yourself on the stage.  You are the sleeping pill they needed. Spice up your talk based on the time of day and the audience mindset before they start snoring.
  • Aggressively going through you marketing spiel: Look, when we said nail your elevator pitch, we meant that you have 5 minutes to give someone a reason to ask you to continue talking. We say this because 1. you should be able to describe anything in 5 mins and 2. no one wants to hear you talk non-stop for more than 5 minutes.  Take breaks, ask people if they are following you, check if the audience is nodding or staring at their phone, give people a chance to take notes.  
  • Talking like a robot:  I don't care how technical this call/talk is, you are not a robot!  You don't talk to the guy in the grocery store that way.  You can still be engaging without being unprofessional.  Stop, make a joke, comment on the weather—anything to engage with the listener and make this a pleasant experience.
  • Thinking this is all about you: You are very important but the easiest way to convince someone of your importance is to listen to their point of view and level the playing field.  That means, before you speak, ask them what they know about you, your company, the subject. Gain insight into their understanding and concerns and then tailor your conversation to their concerns.  Also ask them how much time they have.  Respect their time and don't hold them hostage.  Allow them to digest and maybe offer another call. The audience owes you nothing but to be there for your call/presentation, it's your responsibility to make them care.
  • Argue:  Do they still teach speech and debate in school?  There are many ways to disagree.  And you don't need to agree to disagree.  You need to explain your viewpoint clearly and then provide some background info (stats, whatever) to support your viewpoint.  And ask them to do the same.  Interestingly enough, you might find their are two truths or that somewhere in the difference, you are measuring or defining the subject differently. Chill out.  Oh and don't lose your cool. You will say something crazy and it will be the only thing people remember.
  • Ignore competitive questions: If I had a dime for the number of companies that say, "we don't have a TRUE competitor" Yes you do. Everyone in the world would call you X and you want to be super special, revolutionary Y.  Now you can still be super special, but you are super special X and you need to focus on the super special aspects rather than denying you have competition.
  • Get too casual: You are still representing yourself or company. Sometimes we are tired, or sad or angry, but we still have to bring your A game because this is what you get paid to do. So that means, don't crack off color jokes, delve into a person’s personal life, or throw a millennial temper tantrum and tell the reporter you can't think because you are hungry because this call is during your lunch hour.  Focus on your points, tell a compelling story and act like you care.
  • Ignore follow up: Thank people for their time with a quick email.  If they asked for something on the call make sure you send it or give them a timeline for sending. Tough question on the call? Clarify your response in an email. Tell them you enjoyed talking to them and say you'd like to meet again or meet in person.  Ask them if you might be going to a event you’ll be at. Be polite. Channel your mom.
  • Thinking you’re too advance/complicated:  Every day brain surgeons explain procedures to their patients, scientists explain findings to funding boards, and monkeys use sign language to ask for food.  Your company or product is not ahead of the times or more sophisticated than watching the space walk livestream.  You need to practice, learn, test, and take responsibility for communications.  If they didn't get it, try again. It's not them, it is you. Learning to speak on stage or in interviews takes professional training and patience.  Don't give up. Don't find another spokesperson.  You HAVE to be able to talk about your company. Listen, learn and refine.  No one is asking for a dynamo but you must learn to communicate.
Bottomline, audience empathy is about understanding the person listening to you, so that you can convince them of your viewpoint and what you want them to do. You need to take responsibility for making every interaction a rewarding experience for everyone. You can do this. You just need to listen before you talk.
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