Every presentation should be built with the audience in mind. In order to do that, you need to be armed with some important information about them. Here are five key questions so ask of whoever invited you to speak.
1) Who are they? Are they prospects? Clients? Peers? Management? A Board of Directors? One size does not fit all when it comes to presentations. Begin with the simple knowledge of whom you’ll be speaking to.
2) Why are they coming to hear your presentation? Are they coming voluntarily or are they required to be there? Are they coming eagerly or under duress? Understanding their attitude about your message will go a long way towards helping you design it.
3) How much do they know about your topic? Are they well-versed in your subject matter or are they clueless? Are there a variety of knowledge levels among the audience members? Is there one know-it-all amidst a group of novices? If their knowledge levels are mixed (which is often the case) you’ll want to create your message very thoughtfully. Your best approach is to aim for middle ground. DO NOT speak to appeal to the most knowledgeable person in the room at the expense of everyone else. Instead, acknowledge Mr. or Mrs. Expert before you begin. I say something like, “Ben here knows at least as much as I do about this topic. If I should drop dead in the middle of this presentation, he can take over.” That gives Ben a shout out for his knowledge without sacrificing the group’s understanding of the message.
4) Do they have preconceived notions about your topic? This is critical to know. Better to walk into the room having a good idea of how your audience feels about your topic than to be blindsided three sentences in. If they’re fans of what you’ll be speaking about, that’s great. You won’t have to spend lots of time winning them over. If, on the other hand, they have negative views and/or feelings about your message (or your product or service) you’ll have to begin with a very convincing argument to win them over. Sometimes simply acknowledging their feelings – getting it out in the open - is the best way to begin. Tell them you know they are skeptical about “X”. If you can, get specific. List a few of their reasons, and then debunk each one. Now you’ll have them ready and willing to hear what you have to say.
5) What is their attention span? Find out what it is and then do not exceed it! If they’re over-the-top interested they’ll ask questions and keep the conversation going. In fact, the more concise and compelling you can be, the more likely it is that they’ll be eager to continue the conversation.
These and other questions are part of our bespeak audience assessment tool, included in our recently released book: Nail it. Create and deliver presentations that connect, compel, andconvince. (Available on amazon.com) Have suggestions for others? Email, tweet or comment on LinkedIn or Facebook – we’d love to hear your ideas!