Executive Careers Blog

How to Capture Your Audience


Oprah Winfrey, years ago, gave each of her audience members a mysterious box. One of the boxes, she said, contained the keys to a new car.

Surprise—all the boxes did. Oprah gave away 276 new Pontiacs that day. Value: $7 m.

Want to give a great presentation? You'll need a great present—what will it be?

"Not sure," you say, "because I don't have 276 Pontiacs. But wait— I do have 276 PowerPoint slides. Also some handouts."


If you watch Oprah that day, she looks as excited as the audience. And if you walk in with a great present, you'll be excited too.

But how do you know if you've got something good? Well, like any present, it depends on the recipient—in this case, the audience.

Oprah Winfrey
Getty Images

Oprah's audience had been specially selected: they really needed cars.

What does your audience need?

Once you've figured that out, tell your audience. You do that with a "purpose statement." That's the un-hyped version of, "TELL THEM WHAT THEY'VE WON, BOB!!!"

A strong purpose statement says what you're going to talk about, and more importantly, why.

WHY is the value—from the audience perspective. WHY answers the audience question: "Why should we listen?"

Bad example: Suppose you're representing your company at a job fair. "My purpose," you say, "is to tell you why my company is the best place to work."

Well, that beats saying why it's the worst, although the latter might be more interesting. ("We're involved in multiple lawsuits. Most of our products smell bad, and appear to be carcinogenic.")

It may be YOUR purpose, as the speaker, to promote your company, but the audience has probably heard 20 other speakers say the same thing.

To figure out your purpose statement, take a few minutes to stop being you. Be your audience. What are their concerns?

Well, at the job fair they're probably wondering what it's like to work at your company, and if they'd like it.

Ok, start there. "Our purpose is to help you figure out if this company would be a good fit for you."

Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't. But if you help the audience decide, you've given them a gift.

Tip: Your audience, it turns out, has absolutely no reason to listen to you. Give them one.


Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (  Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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