When you approach your audience as human beings first, you show sympathy for, reassure, and disarm your audience. Literally! Arms uncross as your audience sits back and breathes a sigh of relief that this isn’t about to be another one of those presentations. This is going to be good.

But why the sigh of relief? What is it that they are relieved to see?

It’s that this presentation will be deeply relevant to them—and what’s more deeply relevant than survival?


Survival Shapes How Human Beings Understand & Remember Information

People can only see very few things at a time.

And what we see are the things that help us survive—everything else gets blanked out.

We are constantly scanning our environment (including deliverables!) for information that’s going to help us meet our primitive need to survive.

This means that when we present slide after slide about survey questions, or things we found interesting or present findings in chronological or discussion guide order, our audience checks out. Why?


Because that information isn’t helping them to…

“…eat, drink, find a mate, fall in love, build a tribe, experience a deeper sense of meaning, or stockpile weapons in case barbarians start coming over the hill.”

🗨️Donald Miller1Miller, Donald. Building a Storybrand (Harper Collins Leadership) 2017.

Or more directly in our case, it isn’t helping them make money (put food on the table, keep shelter over their heads, find a mate, have children), do their jobs well (build a tribe, gain prestige, experience meaning), or give them strategies to beat competitors (stockpile weapons in case of barbarians).

“…among the million things the brain is good at, the overriding function of the brain is to help an individual survive and thrive. Everything the human brain does, all day, involves helping that person, and the people that person cares about, get ahead in life.”

🗨️Donald Miller2ibid.


When looking at your slides, people are seeing what is useful for their own survival, and mentally discarding the rest.

You’re doing this right now in the room you’re in, too. You aren’t paying attention to your humming refrigerator, the color of your rug, how many brushstrokes are on the painting on your wall (unless you dropped acid earlier today), the way your shoes feel on your feet (unless they hurt!), or that droning noise outside (unless it seems threatening). You’re looking at your screen (I hope!).

“When we look at the world, we perceive only what is enough for our plans and actions to work and for us to get by. What we inhabit, then, is this “enough.” That is a radical, functional, unconscious simplification of the world—and it’s almost impossible for us not to mistake it for the world itself.

But the objects we see are not simply there, in the world, for our simple, direct perceiving…We perceive not them, but their functional utility and, in doing so, we make them sufficiently simple for sufficient understanding. It is for this reason that we must be precise in our aim. Absent that, we drown in the complexity of the world.”

🗨️Jordan B. Peterson3Peterson, Jordan B. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House Canada) 2018.


This means that we need to precisely position our deliverables as an aid in helping people survive, thrive, be accepted, achieve an aspirational identity, or bond with a tribe that will defend them physically and socially. We have to aim our takeaways at those things they believe have functional utility. In this context of our relationship with our audience as their Insights Professional, this is what they care about most.

Based on their role (which we’ll get to), there will be more specific things they care about. But as human beings, as a baseline, the need to survive is what everyone in your audience has in common.4One of my clients told me his audience, made up of high-level surgeons, weren’t really human–“they’re all robots.” And he was serious. I mean, one, we don’t quite have the technology for sentient robot surgeons yet, and two, surgeons are human beings who have the drive to survive just like everyone else—the key is to figure out which specific survival mechanisms drive them, why, and how we can align with them.

Published On: April 25th, 2023 / Categories: The Client Audience /