Helping Your Audience On The Hero’s Journey


Let’s take a trip back to your junior high days.

If you’re like me, immediately your palms begin to sweat. Your throat tightens. Your heart starts racing and your mouth gets dry as you remember those trying teen years.

Imagine that today is that day! It’s the big day when you have to deliver your first speech.

Your mind is racing. “Will I remember everything to say? Did I wear the right clothes? Will they laugh at me? Will they boo me?”

You say to yourself, “Remember what Ms. Smith said. View your audience in their underwear and you won’t be as nervous.”

What? Why would picturing my audience in their underwear calm my nerves?

Well, the days of a presenter imagining their audience in their underwear is over. Now you should picture them in capes, masks, superhero logos and tights. Why? Because they are the superheroes that will take your words and complete the mission.

The Gathering Of The Heroes

You as a presenter are not an isolated, charismatic, superhuman with extraordinary powers and miraculous answers from the gods.

Instead, you are part of a superhero avenger justice league who says to your audience, “Come with me. We can do this together. We can create shared acts of heroism that inspire courage and hope on every corner of the globe.”

Though your audience of heroes has gathered in the same room at the same time to hear you, they are not you. Nor do they lead identical lives. Instead, each superhero has unique talents, traits, fears and problems.

The one thing they share in common for the next hour or so is your presentation. They are all listening to the same message. However, they are each filtering that message differently.

Your job as the presenter is to find common ground with your audience so that your communication resonates. You want to make your listeners feel as if you are speaking personally to them. Your presentation should have a conversational tone.

Hero’s Together On A Quest

One commonality you share with your audience is that you are all heroes immersed in a quest to respond to increasingly complex demands of today’s world. Old answers are no longer viable for the new questions we confront. Old solutions are insufficient to respond to contemporary problems.

You and your audience are both individual and collaborative questors, searching for viable ways to transform your worlds. The object of your quest is the capacity to initiate, support and sustain meaningful change.

Facing chaos and complexity involves supreme truth telling. It requires that we recognize the dragons at our gates and the serpents in our gardens. It means facing the Minotaurs in the center of our labyrinths, acknowledge them, confront them and slay them when necessary.

Lone Rangers No Longer

The idea of Lone Rangers working in solitude to restore order in a chaotic world is no longer a viable solution. Instead, we are all in this together.

You as a presenter need your audience of superheroes as much as they need you.

It is not smart to work alone. In working alone, we can easily become a martyr or egomaniac. Isolated heroism cannot be sustained.

Contemporary heroism resides both in individuals and groups working together. Collaboration is essential for the personal learning that this heroic journey requires.

We desperately need heroes today. But not the idealized heroes of yesteryear. We need authentic heroes of tomorrow.

As a presenter, your job is to help your audience see themselves as the heroes of today and tomorrow, to help them discover the best in themselves and the world they inhabit. The challenge is to regain a sense of shared purpose and transformation in our quest together.

Thanks to author Nancy Duarte who helped remind me that our audiences are the real heroes!

How can presenters simultaneously push for change while allowing for personal learning along the hero’s quest? What are some things the hero-presenter should know about his/her heroic audience so that the presentation resonates with them?

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  1. I really loved this post. And what a relief for speakers to realize they need to have a certain level of polish but not superhuman skills in order to connect with an audience in a meaningful way.

  2. Fantastic perspective, Jeff. I look forward to shifting to this enlightened mindset the next time I get the privilege to speak!

  3. Liz Aperauch says:

    What a great outlook! I enjoy the connection with the audience and have always encouraged them to share their experiences and comments as part of the “gestalt” of the presentation. Now I will acknowledge them as fellow Super Heroes!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Presentations really are about connecting with an audience in a meaningful way. That makes our jobs as presenters more purposeful and intentional. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Thanks for the positive feedback. Here’s to a your next successful presentation.

      Yay, for the audience super heroes! I like what you said about encouraging them to share their experiences as part of the “gestalt” of the presentation. Great point. Thanks for sharing it!

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