Need to Engage Your Audience? Speak to the Middle 50%

A few years ago, I was about to speak on stage at a conference in front of hundreds of people at Barclays.

Weirdly, I got this stomach-churning fear that some people might hate me or judge me because they may not buy into my ideas on impact and confidence.  

The audience was full of senior women with bags of experience in the corporate world – and I thought they’d be so much more confident than me and therefore not take me seriously!   

I was so wrong!

I wish someone had reminded me then, that 100% of your audience will never LOVE you! You need to concentrate on the middle 50%.

Of course, there were one or two out of hundreds who wrote (cringe worthy) negative notes in the feedback like “She repeated her point too many times” (Aarhh I hate negative feedback don’t you?). They would have been in the bottom 25% of people who may hate you!

Most of the feedback was “Loved it, brilliant, I feel so much more confident” 

I used to sweat and fret about it and sometimes it stopped me from creating great content and telling fantastic stories because I was worried about being judged.

However, I’ve learnt NOT to worry.

Do you ever worry that some of your audience – or peers round the board room table might not don’t like you, or buy into your vision?

Don’t you worry anymore. Here’s the truth about audiences…

You can NEVER please everyone ALL of the time.  

Clients often ask me “How can I speak to my target audience, if they are a mixed group?”

After all my 26 years experience producing live shows for audiences of millions at the BBC and helping business leaders engage with audiences all over the world, I’ve learnt NOT to worry about ‘the haters’. I’ve also learnt to take the ‘lovers’ with a pinch of salt too. At the BBC presenters were always taught not get big headed over a few fans! 

Here’s what I’ve discovered from speaking to hundreds of my clients about their audiences.

25% of your audience will LOVE you and may even want to have your babies! (Great, your job is easy).

50% of your audience are undecided and ready to be won over

These are your target audience

25% of your audience may hate you (or perhaps they hate themselves and they just refuse to like anyone else’s ideas!).

When I speak to my clients and ask them to talk about their audiences – they immediately start describing the cynics, the bottom 25%, often the more senior people in the room (not necessarily the most influential).

The temptation is to craft your content based on what the cynics might think! This is a bad strategy and won’t please the other 75% of your audience.

Recently I was helping Mark, a senior partner at a global law firm with his career changing conference speech. And when we started crafting the message he was focusing on the cynics and how he could turn them around. 

When we analysed his audience, we realised that 25% of his audience was keen and ready to take on the new regime, 50% were undecided but needed to be persuaded and 25% were indeed NEVER going to buy into the vision of the firm.

It turns out this is absolutely the pattern for most audiences.

So here’s a very useful tip that I worked through with Mark. You can adopt this next time you need to speak to your middle 50!

When you’re preparing your core message and pitch, presentation or speech ask yourself these questions;

  1. Who are the middle 50%? What’s their profile? Gender age/seniority
  2. Pick 2 people who represent this audience – pref – different people, old, younger, man, woman, trainee, partner – they can be your avatars – give them names if you know them , if not make them up eg Mike and Seline!
  3. What do Mike and Seline care about in life and work? (yes this is important, they are human).
  4. Step into their shoes for 5 minutes and imagine you are Mike, then imagine you are Seline sitting in the audience before the presentation is about to start. Be honest, be truthful – write down on a piece of paper what is going through your head right now…

    This can be amusing – often if I get a room full of highly experienced professionals writing quotes like;

    “When’s lunch” or “Oh no, how long are they going to go on for?”

    In Mark’s case it was no different “Get on with it and tell us what the vision is”.
  5. Finally think about what they NEED to know and what your message NEEDS to be to align with them.  Make sure it’s short, punchy and to the point!

This is the first powerful step to charismatic communication.  Often people fall at the first hurdle because they don’t think about their core audience and what they NEED.

So here’s your action point next time you need to speak in a meeting, at a conference, in a presentation or a seminar…

Speak to your middle 50 and don’t be afraid to annoy the cynics. You’ll have a much more powerful speech and you‘re much more likely to get the results you want.

I love helping my clients nail their speeches and I’d love to help you. So if you need to have the edge and make an impact in front of your audiences or in front of the dreaded interview panel, I can help you ooze confidence and charisma no matter what is thrown at you.

Contact us immediately so we can make a plan. Email -

Here’s to your middle 50! 

Esther Stanhope