What the audience wants. (Hint: It’s not you.)

Fresh off a great session with the folks in my 12-week writing program, talking about what the audience wants, and I run into this helpful gem from Forbes.com:

4 Common Mistakes To Avoid In Job Interviews

What do job interviews have to do with writing? Not much.

But what do job interviews have to do with delivering what the audience wants? Absolutely everything. Job interviews are all about the audience—the people you want to hire you.

Yet most interviewees walk into the situation assuming it’s all about them. As a certain elected official might say: “Sad!”

Your audience at an interview doesn’t care that your current boss is a certifiable narcissist. In fact, as writer Ashley Stahl points out, talk trash about anything and you might as well tattoo a giant, red NOPE on your forehead. (Seriously, would you want to be the next boss of someone who’s got a track record of complaining about her bosses?)

Focus on the audience and you’ll avoid committing what Stahl calls “job interview suicide.”

give the audience what the audience wantsWhat the audience wants — it’s not what you think

I understand why you think the audience wants to hear about you. Whether you’re interviewing for a job or giving a speech, they did invite you to talk with them.

But what the audience really wants in just about any situation is to hear about themselves and what you can do for them.

As Stahl writes:

“Too often I hear about job seekers getting caught up in sharing context about their day-to-day [Note: it’s not about you!], and as a career coach I beg them to focus on their achievements.”

She advises her clients to prepare two bullet points about their accomplishments in each job they’ve held and to:

“…make sure to share at least one of your achievements as they relate to the job you’re interviewing for.”

That’s my emphasis added. Translation: Think about what your audience wants to hear. Show them you’ve considered their needs by filtering your experiences through their lenses, not just yours.

Frame your story in a way that people in the audience can see themselves in it. It’s not about what you accomplished—it’s about what you learned, how you grew, what impact your work had on your company or your clients. And don’t expect statistics to do all the heavy lifting for you. Data points mean nothing unless you can frame them in human terms.

So talk about about the results you got for your company; people in business like results. But also talk about the emotional impact your work has had. Help your audience see how the things you do make the world a better place. That’s not just you tooting your own horn; that’s you offering information your listeners can adapt to fit their own lives or business situations.

Be yourself—it’s the only choice you have

Very few people are the first in the world to do something. Chances are that whatever you’ve done, your audience has already met people who’ve done the exact same thing—especially in a job interview, where they talk to many people with virtually identical skill sets. But you can guarantee that no one else they’ve interviewed is you. So your best option—in fact, your only option—is to be yourself.

Stahl writes:

“In a world where our workspace can often demand that you’re ‘putting on a face,’ you can set yourself apart with one unique quality, and that’s authenticity.”

For interviews Stahl recommends “talking to the prospective [employer] as if they’re a distant family friend.” That frame makes sense to me for an interview: it builds in some distance that can keep you from sharing Too Much Information.

I often advise people writing speeches for themselves to imagine they’re talking with a colleague—and make sure it’s a colleague you like! That generally helps eliminate some of the stiffness an inexperienced speaker (or speechwriter) might feel.

During your first prep session, pull up a chair and tell your imaginary colleague some stories related to the topic of your speech. Stories about your work, about your education, about the time you realized this was the profession you were destined to follow, about the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you on the job. Record the ramblings and then sort through them the next day. Not everything will be usable in your speech, but the best anecdotes will stand out. And they’re stories that nobody but you can tell.

Just keep your audience’s perspective in mind when you tell them.


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