Do you ever have these feelings as you are sitting through an agonizing speech or an endlessly boring presentation?
- “The guy won’t stop talking!”
- “When will she sit down?”
- “If I hear one more rambling story, I will scream!”
- “Get me out of here! I have so much I could be doing.”
Surely you have felt this way about presentations, and all audiences share similar feelings from time to time. Most audience members would rather be doing almost anything else than listening to a boring presenter. Realizing this fact is not encouraging when we are assigned to give a speech.
There may be nothing more awkward or uncomfortable than giving a presentation to an audience that has no interest in listening to what you have prepared. They shift around and look at anything but you - their phones, the door, their feet, each other, or in virtual meetings, other applications or websites.
But, with a bit of preparation, you can avoid this!
In my latest book, Mastering the Art of Oral Presentations I share the good news that an audience will listen when the subject matter is relevant to them. You, as the speaker, must first do your homework on your audience. Long before you formulate your content, take time to understand your audience; speakers who fail to do this fail. Speakers who do, succeed.
So, the essential key to a successful presentation is taking time to get to know your audience BEFORE you prepare your content!
Audiences are often fickle. They usually would much rather be doing other things than listening to the speaker. Capture their interest by making it clear that you offer something beneficial for them, something that will help them.
Accept the fact that the audience is selfish with their time. They need to know up-front how you will answer the basic questions they have of: “What’s in it for me?” and “Why should I care?” By providing clear answers to these audience concerns and interests, you are far more likely to resonate with them.
Doing this requires that you spend time with each of the following six questions, which will provide you with the necessary background, you need to understand your audience.
Six Questions You Must Answer Before you Write Your Presentation
1. Why are you giving this presentation? What is your purpose?
Most presentations are usually to persuade, inform, entertain, brief, or honor. Determining what type of speech, yours is will direct the kind of audience analysis you need
Being clear on your primary objective is imperative. Be certain of what you are hoping to accomplish.
When you finish your speech, know in advance what you want your audience to think or believe as they leave the room. That will be your end goal. Have it clearly in your mind.
2. Who is your audience?
Learn who will be attending, what their backgrounds primarily are, their demographics of age, gender, experience, education, and other essential characteristics. Determine how unified they are in attitude, philosophy, and experience. Some audiences share commonalities, and others represent a mix of opinions.
3. What is important to them?
Knowing what the audience cares about will clue you into their:
- strongly held opinions
- and other tell-tale data points
You will need to keep these in mind as you prepare your content. Identify their concerns. Learn about these concerns by researching the audience’s past reactions to your topic and past presenters.
4. What is their familiarity with your topic?
Find out how much exposure they have had to your subject. Determine if it is common knowledge in this group or if it is relatively new information. See if it is controversial, emotional, routine, or a combination. Learn how other speakers have done with them.
5. What is their history with you?
Answering this question is particularly difficult because it deals with a sensitive topic—you! But you really need to know the answer. Get unbiased views in answering this question so you can understand how they see you.
They may not know you at all, or you may have had frequent interactions with them before. If the latter, then review how those presentations have fared. Find out whether from your associations or background, you represent a threat to them or if you align yourself to them.
6. What questions are they likely to have?
Making educated guesses regarding the questions that they have about your subject will allow you to build answers to your presentation. By anticipating these questions in advance, you are more likely to avoid losing their attention as they become fixated with a hot button issue that they can’t let go.
A Note of Caution:
Contrary to what many think, careful audience analysis is vital for audiences of ALL sizes. It applies to speakers making a presentation to one or 100 (or more!)
My research and experience have indicated that small audiences require the same advance homework by the speaker as large ones. Yet typically, I see much more prep time devoted by speakers to large audiences. Don’t make that mistake.
Think of the frequency of persuasive conversations that you have with one or two people. Give the same careful attention to them as to a group of three hundred. The same audience homework applies to a small one as to a large one. If you want a successful presentation, remember that careful audience analysis applies to every audience—no matter the size!
Conduct a thorough audience check-up before you formulate your content. This will enable you to relate to them as you prepare what you want to say. Doing this will set the stage for a memorable presentation that will meet your desired result because you have taken the time to really know your audience.
- Do I carefully study and analyze my audience before I develop the content of my presentation?
- Do I try to understand their concerns by putting myself in their shoes?
- Do I learn enough about them that I can effectively tailor my content to their attitudes, background, and issues?