On Presenting: Put the Audience First

Put_the_Audience_FirstFade up on comedian Jerry Seinfeld, on stage at a posh theater. We pick him up mid-monologue as he remarks with perfect comic timing…

“…so I got off the elevator, cut in line and said; ‘what is this… the 7th inning stretch?’”


Cut to his audience—deadpan.

Then back to Jerry—flummoxed.

As it turns out in this TV spot for American Express, Jerry is performing in England. His material—which would have American audiences rolling in the aisles—is incomprehensible to his British audience. Rising to the challenge, Jerry uses his AmEx card to experience everything British—from cricket to pub songs to crossing Abbey Road.

By the end of the spot, Jerry is back on stage, riffing hysterically on all things British, and his audience is eating it up as fast as he can dish it out.

American Express to the contrary, the moral for me is that to succeed as a communicator, it pays to put the audience first.

If you’re planning a presentation, here are a few questions you might consider to help ensure your message will resonate with your audience:

  • Why is the audience here?
  • What gets them excited?
  • What do they need?
  • How can I help this audience meet their needs?
  • Where do our interests coincide? Where do they diverge?
  • What might this audience value about my expertise? (Where do I have credibility?)
  • What is the emotional landscape?
  • How can I earn their trust?

And—taking a lesson from Jerry’s AmEx spot—it’s always a good idea to make sure you’re speaking their language… avoiding idioms, acronyms or jargon the audience may not fully understand.

Whether your goal is to inform, influence or inspire… it all starts with engaging the audience… speaking to their interests, their needs and their culture. Once a presenter makes that all-important connection with an audience, the magic can truly happen.


Rick Cornish creates communications that inform, influence and inspire… helping organizations increase sales, promote unity and persuade their people to embrace change. Working in video, corporate meetings, event marketing and more; Rick delivers purposeful creative that drives business results and builds stronger brands.

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