In every presentation skills workshop I run, the first thing I teach is the importance of understanding the wants, needs and motivators of your audience. This awareness will help you tailor the content of your presentation so it’s as relevant and persuasive for your audience as possible. It will also help you adjust things like your presentation style, body language, and content accordingly, based on what you feel the audience will best respond to.
When I cover this, I sometimes get the sense that the group is thinking: “Yes, that’s all well and good. But when are we going to get to the meaty stuff around presentation structuring, delivery techniques, impactful slide design, etc?” So in a nutshell, I’m not always sure that they understand just how crucial this first step is.
Giving your audience a customised, tailored experience
I had an experience this week that dramatised in a very simple and yet powerful way how knowing your audience can have a profound effect on the way they feel towards you.
I was facilitating a 2-day workshop away interstate, and so was required to stay in a hotel which the client booked on my behalf. It was a pretty high-end hotel so I knew I was in for a treat (which is always nice!). I arrived at the hotel the night before the workshop and whilst I was unpacking, I switched on the TV. On doing so a personalised message appeared on the TV that said “Welcome Mr Huckle, we hope you enjoy your stay”. “Nice,” I thought – except the message is addressed to Mr Huckle rather than Ms Huckle. I didn’t dwell on the mistake, assuming it was as a result of some admin or computer error. A little later in the evening I noticed that there was a super glossy Audi magazine placed on a side table. I glanced at it briefly (as it happens I actually need to buy a new car in the not too distant future but that’s another story!) Again, I didn’t dwell on the fact that it was a car magazine and not long after I went to bed and had a wonderful night’s sleep.
The next day, after running my workshop, I returned to the hotel room and the first thing I noticed upon turning on the TV was that the personalised message on the TV had been changed to read “Welcome, Ms Huckle”. And the second thing I noticed was that whilst the Audi magazine was still there, it was now accompanied by an InStyle magazine (which if you’re male and don’t know, it is a super glossy female fashion magazine). Well, I can’t tell you how impressed I was. The fact that the hotel had figured out that they had made a mistake about ‘their audience’, in this case me, and that they had adapted ‘their content’, in this case the material in the room, blew me away. Just these two simple things changed my stay at the hotel from a good experience to a great experience.
And we can do the same as presenters.
How to pick up on your audiences’ cues
By simply understanding the needs, wants and motivators of our audience, we can tailor and adapt the content of our presentations and so turn a good presentation experience into a great presentation experience. To find out about your audience’s needs try to consider the following:
- What are their biggest challenges? – Are these challenges that exist industry-wide, or are they moreso on the individual level? What are some of the pain points that do exist within the company? Understanding your audiences’ problems and concerns isn’t just tantamount in sales – It’s also one of the most vital steps to ensuring your audience will be interested in what you have to say.
- How much do they already know? – What is their prior knowledge or expertise about the topic? Will you need to illustrate complex topics in an easy-to-understand format, or can you skip past the explanations and get right to the nitty-gritty?
- What are their attitudes about what you’re going to talk about? – Is it a somewhat controversial topic? Are people generally in agreement, or does it cause some disagreements amongst them?
- How much detail do they want? – Are they expecting an all-encompassing presentation covering every possible scenario or piece of info, or just the basics? How long do they expect the presentation to be? You don’t want to be talking for hours if your audience was expecting the presentation to be half an hour long.
Finding out the answers to these questions will take some time and prior research, so that you know as much as possible about your audience before the day of your presentation.
Of course, if in doubt – Ask! You can always open your presentation by asking a few questions of your audience towards the beginning, to see what kinds of things people are expecting from your talk, and what burning questions they’d like to have answered over the course of the presentation. It will take a little quick-thinking on the spot, but you should be able to slightly adjust your presentation style (e.g. from very serious to slightly funny) and subject matter based on what your audience is after.
Another great tip from Toastmasters International is to greet people at the door as they walk in, and try and ask a few questions in a conversational manner, to ascertain people’s knowledge and expectations before you begin. This is particularly helpful if you don’t already know the people you’ll be presenting to, as it helps to build a bit of rapport and get the audience on side before you even begin.
While this will take some practise, regularly paying attention to audience feedback and reading their cues will go a long way in helping you not only become a better presenter, but a better communicator in life and business as well.
So remember, before thinking about the structure of your next presentation, or how you’re going to deliver the presentation, or the slides or visual aids you want to create, consider who you are presenting to. It could really have a profound effect.