Getting Up to Speed on Audience Hot Buttons

By Bob Bly

In every industry and field, there are “hot buttons.” These are major issues of concern to the majority of people in the business. Some hot buttons, such as complying with EPA regulations, are ongoing concerns. Others, like the subprime mortgage crisis, are temporary conditions. Either way, speakers must be aware of the hot buttons. Even if your talk doesn’t deal with them directly, you need to know what’s foremost in the audience’s minds when you speak. And you should inject a reference or two to one or more of the hot buttons in every talk.

Research Hot Buttons

How do you learn the audience’s hot buttons? You can start with a Google search and read a few recent issues of the leading trade journal covering that field. Reading a newspaper can also bring you up to date on news and events important to your audience.

When I’m speaking, I ask the meeting planner to define the three most pressing challenges or problems faced by members of the group; I also ask what the three most significant events or trends have been during the last year in their industry or within their company or group. Between them, the answers to these two questions will reveal the audience’s key hot buttons.

If You Don’t Know the Market

Years ago, I was asked to give a speech on marketing at a convention of dentists. It was the only time in my career I was speaking to a market I really didn’t know well and failed to research the market sufficiently. I thought I knew what dentists wanted. But when I got to the convention, I realized that I was the only speaker there who was not a dentist. For the first time in a long time, I felt unprepared and anxious.

Unknowingly, the meeting planner saved me. He said a number of the dentists were hoping to get some free consulting from me, and would I mind spending about 20 minutes each with a half a dozen or so of the attendees? During those six private sessions, I asked the dentists what marketing problems they had, what marketing programs they have tried, and which had worked and which had flopped-and I took a lot of notes when they spoke.

At the lunch break before my speech, I sequestered myself in an empty conference room and rapidly updated and revised my talk. I added marketing stories I’d heard from the dentists I’d interviewed. During my talk, I told these stories. Since they all seemed to know one another, I referenced the source, saying things like, “This morning, I talked with Pam from Dr. Brown’s office, and here’s an interesting mailing approach that worked for them.”

The audience loved it. They were impressed by the seemingly in-depth research I had done (which they assume I had conducted months in advance), and the interviews with their peers. Because of those interviews, I felt more confident in my ability to relate to the audience. The lesson I learned was that to deliver a speech to a niche market does not require total immersion in that market; if you are a quick study, a few interviews with people in the target market or group can be more than sufficient.

Interview Attendees – Ahead of Time

From that point on, I routinely began to ask meeting planners and training directors, both for my association presentations and corporate training programs, to give me the names of a few audience members I can speak with to get a feel for who they are and what they want to know. One of the attendees I interview should be someone who is popular, respected, and well known to the group.

During the interview, I invariably pick up a good idea or two to add to my talk. When I get to the idea, I say, “This is something Dan told me in a phone call a month or so ago.” This has two benefits. First, Dan is flattered that I referenced him aloud and becomes a more active participant in the session. Second, the other attendees listen more closely because, although they don’t know me, they know and respect Dan.

About the Author

Bob Bly, America’s Top Copywriter, is a master of getting clients and business-building has nearly four decades of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, and direct marketing.

He has written copy for over 100 clients including Network Solutions, ITT Fluid Technology, Medical Economics, Intuit, Business & Legal Reports, and Brooklyn Union Gas…and has won numerous industry awards.

Bob is the author of more than 95 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books) and The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt & Co.). His articles have appeared in numerous publications such as DM News, Writer’s Digest, mtrak Express, Cosmopolitan, Inside Direct Mail, and Bits & Pieces for Salespeople.


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