The 3 Most Important Questions To Ask Yourself Before Any Meeting

Know your audience. Following this advice in advance of meetings and presentations, we poll for audience demographics, troll for their emotions, and prepare to extoll their points of view. While these strategies are vital to effectively entering our conversation, they don’t leave breadcrumbs leading from entry to desired outcome.

Knowing our audience is as important to the epilogue of a presentation as it is in the prologue. We have conversations to enable actions that result in impact. Knowing our audience means knowing what we want them to do, not just what we want them to hear. It helps us create and then close the full loop of communication, encompassing a successful launch from our mouths to subsequent action through their hands.

Once we know our audience demographics, here are three questions to ask about outcomes as we prepare for any dialog: whether in a meeting, a presentation, or a speech.

1.      What do we want our audience to know? As domain experts, we tend to swing to one of two extremes when presenting information: too much detail, causing glazed eyes and lost interest; or so little context that listeners are untethered from fundamental assumptions. Identify the Goldilocks level of information by asking these three questions, “What have they already heard about this topic?” “How disparate are their degrees of familiarity?” “What do they most need to know to take the actions we need?” Frame the introduction with no more than five sentences of context. For example, “When we last met, we summarized our collective experience with the market as …,” or, “You have somewhere between three months and a decade of familiarity with our industry. Leveraging our collective wisdom, here are the three most relevant trends that will help us look around the corner to the next decade.” Or create context with an audience survey regarding what they know and what questions they have about the topic and tackle the top requests. With the context established, connect any other information to the actions the audience should take after the meeting. What do they need to know about what has already been tried, where we are headed, and the desired outcome? Keep in mind that sometimes it is more helpful for others to not know everything we do to allow for fresh perspectives.

2.      How do we want our audience to feel? Strong emotions spawn action. What emotions will galvanize the audience to consider our pitch a collective call to action, rather than deterring them? Do we need our audience to fear a clear and present threat from a major competitor? Perhaps we want them to feel inspired because there are several previously unexplored avenues that are now accessible, or we want them to feel empathetic to the plight of customers with a profound problem. Whatever the emotion, ensure it is one that elicits a strong reaction—not because we have manipulated them, but because there is a genuine need to fulfill. Tepid feelings don’t get us to a boiling point where matter changes state and are not worth the time invested. Equip your audience with the right information as well as the right motivation to act.

3.      What do we want our audience to do? Once we’ve addressed what we want to land in the head and hearts of our audience, it’s time to translate it to their hands—where they stake ownership and take action. Many busy executives often wonder during a wandering presentation, “What do they want from me?” Knowing up front what we want from them allows listeners to consider what we say from that angle. For example, if I want my team to take on a specific task, explaining that to them up front helps them ask questions as information is shared, facilitating their ultimate action. We want our audience’s interest to build toward the desired action rather than being surprised by it at the end.

Good communication doesn’t happen magically through sleight of word and mouth. But if we start with a clear outcome in mind, we can direct the course of our interactions and mind meld effectively with our audience to create magical results.


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