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Secrets of Great Presentations: Understanding Your Audience In 5 Steps

(posted: February 26th, 2015)

Who's listening? Who's your audience?

Being able to present your ideas clearly and confidently inspires people, gets them interested, gets them on your side and fires them up to take action. You may be giving a talk to an auditorium filled with people, or you could just as easily be asking your boss to give you a raise, hoping that a roomful of investors will back your new company or product, or convincing your friends to watch a specific movie. In all cases, your success comes down to how effectively you speak.

There are probably a few people in this world who can inspire an audience just by opening their mouths, but even the best speakers use specific speaking techniques.

Steve Jobs didn't start out as a polished, effective presenter. In his early presentations he was stiff and read from his notes, yet eventually he came to be viewed as one of the most charismatic business leaders to take a stage. He got there by learning and practicing the techniques of speaking and persuading. By all accounts, he practiced relentlessly.

In this series of posts we'll build your speaking skills step by step.

Step Away From Your Slide Deck!

Your first step, before you open a PowerPoint file or even start forming your talk, is to know your audience.

Quick Quiz:

What do you focus on when you prepare for a talk, pitch or important conversation?

  • You?
  • Your material?
  • Your audience?

Answer:

  • Average presenters focus on themselves.
  • Good presenters focus on their material.
  • Great presenters focus on their audience.

The good news is, if you are willing to put in some thoughtful effort, you can become a great presenter.

5 Steps to Understanding Your Audience

1) Get Excited. Passion and enthusiasm are contagious. Identify what it is about your topic that gets you excited, makes you care and keeps you interested in it.

2) Who is your audience? You want to make sure that you are speaking to them with optimal clarity. How much do they already know about your topic? Don't assume that they are either neophytes or experts. Instead, do some research. Even if your audience is within your organization, take some time to find out about them. If the event has a facilitator, ask for their input. Are you speaking to a department within your company? Talk to the department head. Are you presenting to investors? Learn everything you can about them, their previous investments, and their areas of expertise. Are you having a one-on-one with your boss, or a prospective client? How much do you know about them? And don't hesitate to go directly to your audience. When I present to an industry group, I'll often ask to speak with a handful of members, or I'll create a short survey.

3) How should they feel? What matters to your audience? Once you have done your research in step 2, take what you've learned and put yourself in their shoes - or their seat. Write down what you think is most important to them, and then reduce that list to just three things. Can you identify one thing that you want them to know when you are finished?

4) Define your path. Your intention, defined in step 3, is your destination, where you want the audience to be when they leave your talk. Next you need to figure out how you will get your audience to this destination. Try this: Write down the key points you want to make. Now write your intention (your destination) for your audience. Do your points support your intent? When I have clients do this we usually find that many of what they thought were "key" points are not. One of the hardest things can be deciding what not to include. Once you have your path defined it's much easier to assess what your priorities are. Honing your content like this will keep you and your audience on track to your intended destination.

5) Influence, inform or inspire? Now that you know your audience and where your journey together should be going, you can decide which type of presentation to create. While most presentations will included elements of all three, you should know which of the three types is the most important for your current presentation.

Do you need to convince, sway opinions, motivate, change behavior, or sell? You want to Influence. Do you need to transfer knowledge or skills, explain a concept, situation or product? You want an Informational presentation. If you want to fire the imagination, spark action or imbue your audience with excitement, you'll need an Inspirational presentation.

What's Next?

I recommend that you spend some real time on these five steps. It helps to document your activity for each step, noting everything that you discover, and highlighting any surprises or epiphanies.

It's important to remember that great, and even good, presentations take a lot of work and practice. For TED talks, TED staff starts working with a speaker six to nine months before the event, creating, revising, rehearsing and fine tuning the presentation. Most people are not preparing for a TED talk, but even if you are doing a presentation to an audience of one, say, asking your boss for a promotion, following the techniques of the best speakers will improve your chances of making your point.

Challenge Yourself
  • Over the next several weeks, I challenge you to apply each of the 5 steps to a presentation you are planning.
  • If you don't have a presentation on the horizon, consider using a previous presentation, and see how it changes when you apply the 5 steps.
  • Come back and share your experience in the comments.

Stay tuned for the next post in the series, on creating your presentation.

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Images licensed from 123RF

2 Comments

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KLR Post

Thanks for reading Hilary!

Posted by Kristi

(on Apr 16th, 2015  3:39 PM)

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Great article Kristi. Hope all is going well.
Hilary

Posted by hilary

(on Apr 16th, 2015  3:39 PM)

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