(Don’t) Give the People What They Want

Audience during my Wikimania talk
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re all supposed to be keenly attuned to the needs and wants of our customers, viewers, listeners, readers, etc.

So we ask them what they want, and we adjust our agenda, our content, our programming accordingly. But how do we know that they know what they want?

On the webinar I did recently, I had the opportunity to ask participants what communication challenges they face the most. That was my opportunity to shape the content (on the fly) to their specific interests. Among the options we gave them, “networking” and “marketing themselves” scored very high, and delivering presentations very low. Like in the single digits.

So what does that mean? Does it mean few of them give presentations as part of their typical responsibilities? Or does it mean they feel their presentation skills are just fine and don’t need any improvement?

I can pretty much guarantee that if it’s the latter, they are wrong. Most people’s presentation skills are terrible. And they need a lot of help. But they may not recognize the issue or they think it’s not particularly important.

A similar thing happened with an industry conference that I just learned about. The organizers said they surveyed their members in order to come up with an agenda. It turns out the top concerns expressed were social media and digital media, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Trying to keep up with the latest thing continues to cause widespread panic.

But is that where they need the most help? Social and digital media are tactics or channels. They’re for distributing content. You can learn all there is to know about SEO and making the most of Twitter and how the best brands are using Pinterest, but if you can’t structure or tell a story that resonates with your audience, if you can’t deliver interesting content, then all those lessons are worthless.

Now it’s quite possible that blunt tools like audience surveys and multiple-choice questions just scratch the surface and don’t reveal what people really want. And if that’s the case, then we need to develop or use better tools.

Either way, an unquestioning devotion to “giving the people what they want” may be misguided. Sometimes people need to be told what they want.