Keep calm and be relevant

Here’s a question that I received in reaction to one of my earlier posts on this blog:

“Can I present the same slide deck to different audiences, or do I have to customize my visuals every time again?”

This is certainly a good topic to discuss, but IMHO it’s too much focusing on the ‘material’ aspects of your talk: the visuals you prepare and present.  If you understand what’s preoccupying the people in the room, you can be relevant to them, even without projecting one single slide. Yes, you can

Did you ever consider looking up the participants’ LinkedIn profiles before the meeting starts? Try conducting a dialogue with them, instead of the usual monologue? Ask questions about their interests and needs? Address them with the right messages at the right level of (technical) detail?

In three of my older posts I have described tools that may help you characterize your audience, and adapt your content and presentation style to their anticipated behavior: the power quadrant, the influencer quadrant, and the personality quadrant.

If knowing your audience is step one, then managing their expectations is certainly step two. Provide them with a heads-up on what you are going to present and — even more — how you will present it to them. What are the goals of your presentation (if you’re smart, you can already link them to the call to action that will come later)? When can they ask questions (should they interrupt you or did you plan a Q&A session the end)?

As an illustration, here are three samples of visuals I have used to manage my customers’ expectations ― and get them into the mood for a good conversation…

In my first example, I am exploiting the fact that I am Belgian. Belgium is the country known for its surrealist painters, like René Magritte. Therefore, I often use the “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” image below to inform my customers about what they may expect from the meeting and what they should not hope for.


Another visual I show from time to time is Dilbert’s “PowerPoint poisoning” strip. Even when I have only 10 or 20 slides on hand, I try to engage my listeners by asking them if they’re prepared to go through the next 844 slides with me.


And finally, when I want to satisfy my audience’s hunger for information ― and free myself from having to present all the details ― I put up a “keep calm and read this at home” slide (and hand out a copy of it after the meeting), inspired by the 1939 “Keep Calm and Carry On” pre-war campaign of the British Government.


 My posts about the three quadrants I mentioned above: