Pitch DNA Insider 108: Are You Talking to Me?


Stuart: “In the late 2000’s, after making a 180-degree turn in my life—new city, new job, new relationships—I had to take a break from giving talks and being on stage for nearly two years. It killed me because my whole life up to that point was about writing and performing.
The truth is... leading up to my hiatus, I had been slowly giving up. I wasn’t taking full advantage of opportunities like I had when I first started speaking professionally. My “tuning out” was happening in subtle ways—I wasn’t doing the prep work. I wasn’t rehearsing. Basically, I was not putting my all into each opportunity. As you can imagine, my speaking career nearly dropped into reverse.
As someone much smarter than me once said, ‘If you’re not improving, you’re getting worse.’
And I was getting worse.
After 24 long and painful months, the first opportunity presented itself. It was for a group at a local college. Before I left my house, I made a commitment to truly appreciate each and every opportunity and treat it as the only time I would ever be on stage. No guarantees, no promises, no entitlements—I was starting over with one chance.
It made a huge difference that day.

I was focused, intense, prepared, and cared about every single syllable (just like we hope to achieve with every issue of the Pitch DNA Insider).
That day, I was so grateful to rediscover my groove that I did a complete turnaround.
Now, every single time I have the chance to speak, I DO THE WORK. I plan, research, rehearse, and most of all, I give 100% of myself to serve the audience. I know that if I serve them, everything will be alright.
Through this process, I’ve realized that giving a great talk isn’t about me (or the speaker). It never is. Even when I thought it was about me, it was not. It’s always about them—the audience, and the value they hope to extract from your material. Ultimately, we all attend conferences, go to concerts, or watch documentaries because of what they give us—what they say about us.
When we speak (we = all of us > you, me, everyone) we’re serving a message that’s bigger than both the speaker and the audience. In a way, we're acting as advocates for a message—an idea, a product, an initiative—something that catapults us forward in a meaningful way.
Just remember to keep your intention on the audience so the message is received."
“We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are.”
-Anaïs Nin
Are You Talking to Me?
Whenever anyone asks us for quick wisdom on giving an effective presentation, we toss out a handful of foundational questions including:

  • Who are you speaking to?
  • What do you know about them? What do they know about you?
  • Why are you attending this meeting? Why are they attending this meeting?
  • Why should/will they care about your idea?
  • What do you want from them? What do they want from you?
  • Are your goals aligned?

Notice we haven’t given any advice. We are simply seeking clarity. If our client doesn’t run for the door (which might also happen as a result of one-too-many Rush references), we fire off more questions to gain even greater understanding:

  • When are you speaking?
  • How much time do you have with the audience?
  • Will you show slides? Other visuals? Demos?
  • Have you seen the room where you’ll be speaking? Can you see it?
  • Will they serve donuts?

And critically:

  • How much prep time can you commit to this talk? (because practice solves nearly everything)

After this conversation, we usually have a much better sense of how we can help shape our client’s pitch, talk, or presentation. That’s the easy part.

In speaking, as in life, it’s all about knowing who you are, what you want, and what you’re ready for.

And with that in mind...


1) Interview the Event Organizer: If you’re speaking at a conference, ask him/her for 20 minutes to understand everything you can about the conference, their attendees, and their expectations of you.

2) Conduct a Quick Survey: Will the event organizer distribute an email survey to the audience that uncovers who they are, what they’re about, and why they’re attending? Make it fun and doable in a minute. Multiple choice questions are ideal because they require little thought to complete. The goal is to acquire as much basic intel as possible while making it super easy for those who will attend.

3) Ask: In most cases, you’ll have time prior to your talk to speak with attendees. To quickly ascertain what they hope to glean from your presentation, pose a couple of simple warm-up questions such as “What brought you here today?” or “What do you want to get out of today’s talk?”

Super important: write it down. Use a whiteboard, chalkboard, laptop, auGi’s forehead (trust us, it’s that big). Whatever your audience throws your way, displaying their suggestions, and/or keeping track of their requests so you can return to them later, helps you to gauge the audience’s makeup, desires, and demonstrates that you’re listening.

4) Search: The interwebs for information beyond the standard résumé. Identify values, beliefs, and personal passions. For instance, just by reading the Pitch DNA Insider, you should know, both of us are clearly nerds (and obviously, total GENIUSES) because we drop references like Anais Nin and Doug Henning. We do it because we love you. :)

5) Call ‘em: When presenting for a new group or client, speak to as many stakeholders as possible in advance of your talk. Collect their answers, see if any trends pop out, and ALWAYS send a brief thank you note or email. It’s a great relationship-builder and again, shows that you care because you’re learning about their needs.

6) Deep Dive Fact Find: Read the client’s bio, book, articles, LinkedIn profile, and especially spend a good amount of time on their website. So many people and companies invest oodles into unbelievably well-designed websites that NO one ever reads. How do you separate yourself from everyone else? Read their damn website!

Ex: Tim Ferriss, the host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, is a masterful deep dive fact finder. Listen to any episode to see how his pre-interview homework bears fruit during his candid conversations.

7) Give’ em a Test Drive: One of the best ways to determine if your research is spot-on, and if your talk aligns with the organizer’s expectations, is to present a short sample. Schedule a call/Skype with the event organizer 2-3 weeks prior to the event (so you have ample time to make changes). Ask for feedback and see if you’re on-message.

Alternate approaches: Record a few minutes of your talk on your phone’s voice memo app and send it along. If you’re pressed for time, send your slide deck. The goal is to acquire feedback so a) the client feels valued and involved in co-creating your presentation and b) you get the right information that will help tailor your talk for maximum impact. 

Bottom line: When you invest the time to unearth both the needs andthose hard-to-find gold nuggets about your audience—be it a conference, a client, a potential investor, or your CEO—you’ll be in the ideal position for a talk that shakes the earth, moves people to action, and yes, might even score you a piping hot donut. Hiyo!


Plan your next pitch with our complimentary PARDOWL punchlist


Until the next Insider issue on February 15,

Stuart & auGi
Pitch DNA
@StuartPitch / @auGiGarred

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