Meet Your Audience’s Needs

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In addition to helping executives win deals and impress audiences on their “brilliance”, I sometimes coach a debating team. I teach them the same principles that I share with you, since their goal is similar – just it doesn’t end in their winning contracts worth millions of dollars.

The better you know your audience, the better your chance at winning. As noted in prior newsletter articles, it’s important to know the mindset of your specific judges. Are the goal or process oriented; do they value experience more than innovation or vice-versa? This means you need to research your judges before coming to the presentation. If not possible, at the beginning of the presentation introduce yourselves and get to know what’s important to them. In a split decision, it’s just one judge’s vote that, if switched, could makethe whole difference.

Here’s an example. The high school debating circuit generally has three types of judges: Former students who now donate time for judging; parents; and the “circuit” judges, people who have experience as judges and participate in many events each year. Over time, we’ve discovered each has a different perspective:

  • Former students focus on how powerfully each team projects itself as a winner while following the rules. In other words – is the team displaying the type of energy and excellence that was expected from them in addressing each issue.
  • Parents let their parental values enter the equation – and the debaters displaying proper form and etiquette. An overly aggressive team would lose points (while they might not lose them from the former students). If a single issue emotionally bothers them, it may outweigh the actual facts presented and sway the decision.
  • Experienced judges focus on weighing each of the arguments’ points and counterpoints and reaching summative scores. They are more critical of made-up statistics and non-supportive arguments.


Still, the best way to meet the needs of an audience is to understand how they judged in prior rounds. For instance, one judge awarded wins to almost every team taking the Pro position; thus, future teams, when given the chance, chose to take that position. Some judges are swayed by FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) factors; others want concrete evidence. While the presentation/debate goes on, watch the judges just in case their body language gives away how they are reacting.

In sum, whenever possible, try to identify your audience’s priorities and biases, and then tailor your presentation to meet them. All things being equal, that information may just give you the winning edge!