The First Good Question: Who is Your Audience?

Several times I’ve found myself working with some great organization, focused on a fascinating topic, that declares its goals for a particular event to be:

1. Create video that will explain to the masses the group’s topic, and why it matters; and

2. Provide content that will be riveting to the highly sophisticated, involved members that will make up most or all of the live audience.

The idea, of course, is to get the most bang for the buck: engage your members at a conference, while creating content that can be used to educate non-members in the future.

Yet the product of such thinking will not be a bang, but a fizzle.   An event that insists on explaining a topic as if one knows nothing about it will bore a knowledgeable audience to tears.  Even if one eventually gets to more sophisticated questions, the basic explanations have to come at the beginning — the most critical time for engagement.

Holding, and promoting, two completely different events — one for the general public and one for insiders — eliminates this problem, but at a great cost.  So, what can be done to engage a sophisticated audience, while creating content that will work for neophytes?

Here are my suggestions:

1. Swing for the fences on one goal, and use repackaging/augmentation to serve the other — Drop the idea that both the insider/outsider goals can be balanced equally in one event.  The result will be mush.  Instead, pick the goal that’s most important to you, whether it’s engaging the insiders or educating the outsiders, and plan on creating the most powerful content possible in the service of that goal.

2. In most cases, engaging the insiders will be the better goal — If your live audience members are insiders, their engagement will energize your speakers; their boredom will cast a pall over everything.  Moreover, content that will intrigue insiders  is more likely to be content that digs deep for new ideas.  It can be revealing stuff that will intrigue outsiders as well, with a little preparation.

3. To educate outsiders as a secondary goal, augment and repackage — If there will be neophytes as well as sophisticates at the event, have a “pre-game show,” or a “Your Topic 101,” before the event.  One or two solid Powerpoints, or material that’s old to your members but not to newcomers, could be all that’s needed to prep the newbies for the insider discussion to come.  Hand out a page or two covering the biggest facts, terms of art, etc.

Afterwards, video of the insider discussion can be augmented (online or on DVD) with useful background information.  Consider interviewing your  speakers after the event with an eye on getting strong background material.

4. If educating outsiders is your primary goal — If possible, get outsiders for your live audience.   But if a substantial number of audience members are insiders, then be clear about the purpose of the event, and welcome them into the quest to educate others.  Ask your insiders before, during, or after the event (or all three): what do they believe is the best way to educate the public on their issues?   Offer the messages of the speakers as examples of how they can spread the word in their own communities.

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