The Proper Care and Feeding of Your Audience
Last month I was working with an executive on a presentation she was to give for a large conference. The talk was also to be streamed on-line and archived for later viewing. Needless to say she was concerned about how she would be perceived and that her message would be clear and concise. As we began to discuss the material she had prepared, it became obvious that she was much more concerned with she wanted to tell the audience instead of what they wanted to hear. In 20 years of teaching others to give presentations, we have found this to be a common tendency for speakers who are preparing their talks. While we wouldn’t qualify this as a “mistake”, we would consider it to be somewhat short-sighted. One must not only think about their own requirements, but also what the audience is looking for in the presentation.
Consider Their Needs
When you are the one doing all of the hard work to prepare a presentation, it is easy to forget that you are doing it for someone else, namely the audience. So think about what they need to know and how they will best hear it. Here are some questions you might consider as you prepare your material:
• Why is this presentation necessary?
• What are the occupations of the audience members?
• What is their knowledge of the subject?
• Why should the audience listen to me?
• What actions do I want the audience members to take as a result of this talk?
Get Them Involved
It is amazingly easy for your audience to disengage from your presentation. Some have come intending to listen, but get distracted by texts from work or can’t get their mind off life’s pressing issues. Others have been dragged there against their will and have no intention of paying any attention to you from the start. Whatever the case, it is up to you as the presenter to catch and hold their attention. And the best way to do this is to get them involved in the presentation. Here are some ways to get them involved, or at least to make them feel involved.
1. Ask a real or rhetorical question.
2. Conduct a survey or take a poll.
3. Mention a conversation with an audience member.
Give Them a Way to Follow Along
There is a fine line between taking good notes and really absorbing a presentation. If a person is so busy trying to transcribe your talk, it is almost impossible to respond to and thoughtfully consider what you are saying. Some speakers use extensive PowerPoint decks to make it easier for the audience to retain the material. Unfortunately, this lowers the level of participation and engagement as the audience focuses on the slides. Rather, we would suggest that you create a document that allows them to follow along, stay focused and take useful notes.
Be Enthusiastic and Entertaining
The attitude and energy you bring to the presentation will have a lot to do with how the audience perceives the value of your talk. I can’t imagine the number of perfectly good presentations that have been ruined by someone who felt that in order to be “professional”, they had to be serious and reserved. In reality they weren’t professional. They were downright BORING. If you can’t generate a little enthusiasm about your topic, I can guarantee that the audience won’t do it for you. And by the way, the material is never so good that it will overcome a miserable presenter.
With a little forethought, some extra preparation, and a hefty increase in your energy level, you too can deliver more interesting presentations and in doing so properly care for and feed your audience.