Trying to be everything to everyone is a waste, writes Ian Whitworth.
I’ve been trying to drink a bit less coffee lately. That means drinking tea, a product so dull it makes me feel like stabbing myself in the thigh with a pocket knife to check that I’m still alive. I’ve been through boring regular tea, tedious green tea, nauseating fruit-flavoured ‘infusions’, and arrived at the least worst of the teas, the African Rooibos tea.
As you can see from the pack above, it’s just perfect for… well, pretty much everyone in the world. It’s one of those packages that come from marketing people drawing up a fantasy list of all the people they’re going to appeal to. Make sure we hit all those key target demographics!
The trouble with that sort of thinking is that in real-world communication, the more you try to appeal to everyone, the less any given individual is going to care about you. Do sports people want to drink the tea that’s ideal for babies or grandfathers?
I’m not feeling particularly special because I fit into one of the categories on that list, which would cover around 4.8 billion people at a guess. The only actual humans that don’t fit that list are non-parent adults, a group accustomed to neglect from both marketers and governments that believe if you’re not ‘ordinary mums and dads’ you’re a potential enemy of society, so no tax cuts for you.
The tea people have some excuse in that they have to print packages. Economics dictate that you have to print two years’ worth of packaging, and you can’t customise it for anyone.
Presentations are different. You can customise them with a few keystrokes and make them so much more special for each audience. You can make in-jokes about your audience’s industry. You can illustrate your message with case studies that are genuinely relevant. You can talk about stuff that few people outside the room would understand or care about, but those who get it will love you for it.
This ability to infinitely customise is one of the great things about presentations as a communication medium. If you turn up and do the same templated speech to every single audience, as so many presenters do, you’re wasting a very precious opportunity for the want of a tiny bit of extra work.
And with that column completed, it’s time to reward myself with a soothing cup of tea. Nah, screw that, a double espresso with a shot of grappa. Ideal for cranky events columnists!