“The award for the best lead character name in a book or movie goes to… (drum roll please) … Hiro Protagonist.” Hiro, the last of the freelance hackers and greatest swordfighter in the world is a pizza delivery guy for the Mafia in Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash. In Snow Crash, Stephenson does what every great storyteller, writer, director does… get the audience to identify with and pull for the protagonist in the story. This is quite a trick, since we’re all pretty much interested in only one thing, me. (I mean you).
Think about it. Social media exploits this egocentric view of the world. How many friends do you have? likes? followers? Brands tap into it to. Intel has the Museum of me. Nike logs how many miles I run. Coke Australia has stirred a narcissistic frenzy by unveiling a can with your name on it. A central tenet of gamification and new learning theory is about how many badges you’ve collected and how you’re scoring against your peers. In her book, Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior, Bev Flaxington states the first secret, “It’s All About Me.” She points out that, “we all — unintentionally — view every experience through our own lenses.”
So tell me Narcissus, since you are so in tune with your own ego, why do you forget this when you present?
It’s not about you, it’s about them.
Remember this rule. Or you might as well be speaking to an empty room. There are two sides to every conversation, and it’s your job to make sure that the person or persons you are talking to are willing and able to hear what you have to say. Just because you have 30 minutes on an agenda to ramble on about your favorite subject doesn’t mean anyone has to listen. It only means they have to sit there and pretend to.
That’s why in Rule #1 you made your guide and dedicated 50% of the available space to what other people wanted to hear. Refer back to this. What does the audience want? Give it to them.
They (those people staring at you with perky expressions) have to be the protagonist at the center of your story. If they aren’t the hero or heroine, or at least can’t identify with what you are speaking about, you’re wasting your time. You may feel you have an attentive audience, but really you have people who have mastered the art of looking that way while channel-surfing in their heads.
So if you are out there selling what your company can do for someone else, remember, they aren’t interested in your company, or its storied credentials. What they really want is the solution to their business problem. Can you help with that? Do you understand what they are going through? The challenges they face? Can you make their job easier? Can you make them the hero that saves millions to the bottom line or wrestles with the dragon of workforce communication? Rolling out a new initiative or project? Who does it affect? Why will it make their jobs easier? Their lives better? What’s in it for them?
You have to make it about them. This isn’t just psychobabble. We can mathematically prove this. If we plot how Interested a member of the audience is, against how much it is about them, using the formula where Interest = all(me)² + I, we see a curve where interest exponentially increases, the more its about me.
Clearly, down at the bottom of the curve, when it isn’t about me, I am not very interested. Up at the top, when it’s all about me, I am very interested. We call this phenomenon the slope of increasing relevance.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.