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Audience is Hero




We’ve all sat through talks where some blowhard toots his own horn about saving the world: I did this and I did that. Look how wonderful I am, look how great my work is. He ends by asking for the audience’s support. At best a few people may join up and at worst it’s a cringeworthy moment that turns everyone off.

Please don’t be one of those speakers. In her book Resonate Nancy Duarte offers this valuable advice for a better way: “You are not the hero who will save the audience, the audience is your hero.” This simple shift can transform your ability to connect. So what, then, should your role be? Duarte explains:

You are the mentor. You’re Yoda, not Luke Skywalker. The audience is the one who’ll do all the heavy lifting to help you reach your objectives. You’re simply the one voice helping them get unstuck in their journey.

The mentor is often personified as a wise person such as The Oracle in The Matrix or even Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. As mentor, your role is to give the hero guidance, confidence, insight, advice, training, or magical gifts so he can overcome his initial fears and enter into the new journey with you.

The audience is the hero. “Changing your stance from hero to mentor will clothe you in humility and help you see things from a new perspective,” Duarte says. “Audience insights and resonance can only occur when a presenter takes the stance of humility.”

Challenge the audience to a hero’s journey

audience-hero-2The compelling presentation is not about the presenter nor their organization. Rather, it’s about why and how audience members can take up the cause. Challenge the audience to a big adventure—a hero’s journey—and then provide some help for that journey.

And this goes beyond presentations. The audience can be the hero in your brochures, email appeals and videos. Whether you’re asking someone to make a donation, volunteer, or support a piece of legislation, the folks you’re talking with will choose whether to take action. The one who joins is now the protagonist. The cause has moved farther along.

The choir as hero

Of course, you will be speaking a lot with those who are already on board, preaching to the choir. They are the loyal super fans who keep showing up, the heartbeat of your cause. The message for them message may be a bit more sophisticated and nuanced but you are still telling them how much their work means and how much they are valued. In Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher tells us that, in fact, “most preaching is to the choir”:

Choirs produce almost all the important social action in our world. The people most likely to read us are the people who think like we do. And readers generally seek reinforcement of their beliefs, not arguments or challenges. When writing for compatriots, we hope to energize an sustain them. We want to deliver new thoughts and information to them, strengthen their beliefs and mobilize hem to action. Often, we will cite common history and heroes, and employ shared, meaning-laden metaphors. This kind of “to the barricades” writing enjoins communities of believers to make things happen.


The unfinished work is for those in the audience

Your cause is improving the world in some way. Duarte also says that effective speeches move back and forth from a bad current situation, or what is, to a vision of a better future, what could be. The speaker invites the listener: help us bring about a better future by taking a specific action. Help us make this vision of what could be a reality!

In his address commemorating the battle at Gettysburg, President Lincoln said that the brave soldiers had already dedicated the land they were there to consecrate. So he turned his remarks to the audience of those still alive.

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Yes, heroes died on the battlefield to save the “new nation, conceived in liberty,” but those gathered are needed to be the next heroes, to rededicate themselves to the unfinished work of freedom. Like Lincoln, don’t miss an opportunity to invite people to take the next step. Many are ready to take up your cause and are waiting for your ask and encouragement.


Find more on Audience is Hero on Nancy Duarte’s website.

Resonate is one of the books I recommend most often. “Audience is hero” is but one of many smart concepts that can help transform your communications. Order HERE.

Also, don’t let a few people suck up all the oxygen when you have group discussions and decision processes. Flatten the conversation so you get the wisdom of each person. Read about Liberating Structures HERE.




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