Knowing What Your Audience Is Thinking

Something I learned 20 years ago has made a huge difference to my writing, presenting, and pitching: you have to know what your audience is thinking.

The original idea came from a how-to book on writing I read back then, but it’s a common enough meme.  Typing “you have to know what your audience is thinking” into Google just now (sans quotes) gave some 46M hits (although only 8 for the quoted string).

If you bear in mind, when making a pitch, where your audience is going to be mentally at each stage of the pitch, you will certainly make a better pitch.

Take the usual custom (in which entrepreneurs are widely coached) of spending a huge number of slides at the beginning of a pitch describing and justifying the market problem your startup will address.

Complete waste of time.

Most investors will fall into one of three camps in the first 20 seconds of your “market need” recital:

  1. I get it, I agree 100%
  2. I get it, I disagree 100%
  3. I get it, I’m not sure if I agree or disagree, but I’m willing to stipulate that there is such a need for the sake of argument while you tell me what you’re going to do about it.

In all three cases, they’ve made up their mind.  Ten more slides will only put them to sleep.

Of course, short of telepathy, we can’t know what our audience is thinking.  But we can make shrewd guesses along the lines of the above.  And making the effort really opens your mind to how to structure the pitch so that it tracks with your listeners’ real state of mind, which puts you way ahead of the pack.

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