July 26, 2010

Know Your Audience: How to Get a Standing Ovation

Several years ago while I was working at KAKE-TV in Wichita, Kansas, I received a special invitation. I was asked to give the commencement address for a small southern Kansas high school. I accepted knowing it was a big responsibility. After all, it is the commencement speaker who passes along the last words of wisdom graduates hear before they go out into the real world. At least that’s the idea.

So I showed up at the school on graduation day all ready to give the speech of my life. I took my seat on the stage in the gymnasium and looked out at the crowd filled with proud moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. And they all had one thing in common: they were waving their graduation programs like crazy. Only it wasn’t like the celebration wave at a football game. People were using the fans to try to stay cool. There was no air conditioning and it must have been over 100 degrees inside the gym that afternoon.

By the time it was my turn to speak, the crowd was melting. In football language, I knew I had to call an audible…a change of plan. Goodbye long speech, hello short and sweet remarks. I thought back to my own high school graduation ceremony. We had our state’s US Senator give the commencement address. I don’t remember a word he said, but I will never forget how this distinguished politician spoke forever. He must have thought he was in Washington, DC. The senator went on and on and on when all we wanted was to get our diplomas and go hang out with our friends.

I shared that story with the audience. Only I included the words “I’m not going to do that to you” at the end. The crowd laughed and cheered loudly. I finished by telling the graduates this is a special time for them because now the door is open for them to be anything they want to be, do anything they want to do. That was it. I had spoken for about 2 minutes.

Then a funny thing happened. I got a standing ovation. Not because of the words I said, but because I had gotten to know the audience. I could tell what they wanted and I gave it to them.

Too many businesses fail to know their audience when it comes to creating their marketing messages. Instead they try to develop something for the masses. Many of our clients tell us up front they would like a video that will go “viral” and get millions of hits on YouTube. That works for some companies, but it doesn’t take long to figure out most are better served by having a targeted video message that can influence the right people…their potential customers.

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