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Business Presentation: Audience

This lesson is a part of an audio course Nail Your next Business Presentation by Emily Carlson Goenner

In our last lesson, we discussed how to develop ideas, gathering a wide range of ideas before narrowing them to several themes or topics.

Now, before refining those ideas, we need to look at the most important part of your presentation—your audience. No presentation will be effective if you don't consider your audience.

The audience is the people to whom you will be presenting, and the more you know about the audience, the more you will be able to shape and form your presentation to meet their needs, which is the key to being an effective presenter.

The first question you need to ask is, who are your listeners? Maybe you're presenting to a large group of shareholders, or you're presenting to a client. Maybe you're presenting to members of your department or your own team. You want to know as much about your listeners as possible. Are they required to attend this presentation? If so, will you face resistance to their attendance? Or will you be facing an audience that expects to be bored? Both of these factors have huge impacts on how you will start the presentation and share your information. If your audience is resistant, you have to focus on overcoming their resistance—how can you show them the information you're sharing is important or relevant to them? If you expect they might be bored, you need to amp up the excitement about your topic. Maybe you're presenting financial statements to a general audience. How can you make those seem relevant and interesting? Maybe you can use a story of a shareholder or a client and use that person to demonstrate the impact the financial situation has on a real person.

Next, you'll want to know how large your audience is. When preparing for an auditorium full of people, you will create a different type of presentation than if preparing to share information with your work-team. How interactive can you be with your audience? Can you ask questions and elicit audience responses? In a workgroup, you certainly will want to, but is it expected, or will it work in with an audience of hundreds? It might, don't count it out, but think carefully about how you want to, and can, interact with a large audience. The visuals you use to support your presentation might vary based on the size of your audience. For a business meeting, you likely don't need a PowerPoint type presentation and might pass out handouts, both of which are not as feasible with a large audience.

What are the demographics of your audience? Are they older or younger or a mix? Are they mostly men or women or a mix? Each of these questions may affect the choices you make in terms of content, examples, demonstration, word choice, and more. Addressing an audience of senior citizens will be very different from addressing an audience of twenty-somethings. What does the audience value? What do they like to do? Answering these questions may require some research. You might do an internet search on how to reach an audience of baby boomers, or search for characteristics of different generations. When I'm teaching a college course, I know most of my students will be in their early 20s. They're digital natives, comfortable with technology, and generally have short attention spans. I prepare my courses, assuming they all have cellphones they can use to access the internet and web based applications; I plan a variety of activities and tasks for a single class period in an attempt to keep their attention.

Next, you'll want to ask questions about your audience's attitude toward your topic. How much do they know about the topic? Is this an audience of experts who can handle detailed information? If so, you can probably assume they have a strong knowledge base and develop your presentation based on that. This is very different from an audience who is new to the topic—in this situation, you’ll want to spend more time defining the topic, terms, reasons this is important.

How do you think your audience will respond to your topic? Are they interested or bored, or resistant? Do they expect you to teach, to entertain, to inform? In my college classes, I expect students to be fairly bored by many of my topics, so I often begin with examples of why the information is important—what happens if you deliver negative news poorly, for example? Well, you might make someone angry or lose a client or your job—so how you deliver bad news is important! Those lessons are different from lessons on resumes, which students are very engaged with because they see the importance of resumes to getting a job when they graduate. These classes differ from a presentation at a conference, when I know the audience is voluntary and interested in the topic, as well as experts in their fields. These presentations assume a different knowledge base and level of interest when I am planning.

Finally, think about how to engage with your audience. Will you ask hypothetical questions to get them thinking about your topic? Or, you might ask questions you want audience members to answer, either to gauge their knowledge or interest, or to set up a portion of your presentation. Do you want to include time for audience members to talk to each other and explore and share ideas? If so, when in the presentation? In a business meeting, you may ask for opinions and include time for a discussion, while in a presentation to hundreds, you may ask a question to get the audience thinking on their own. Do you want to include technology, like polls or word clouds, chats, or questions? Do you want to have an assistant move through the crowd after your main presentation so audience members can ask questions? The options are endless, but it is important to plan how you want to encourage audience engagement.

Another way to engage your audience is through the story. Storytelling connects with people’s emotions and experiences and makes your ideas more memorable. Knowing about your audience, you can create or find a story that will relate to them and their experience. One of the best student presentations I had was on different generations in the workplace. The team assigned a character to each generation, complete with name and background. The presentation used these characters to talk about the characteristics of people from certain generations, which was incredibly effective.

To create an effective business presentation, the audience is the most important factor to consider. Without them, you have no reason to share your information! Try to see things from their point of view, or how you may expect them to respond, and tailor your presentation to address those needs, wants, desires, resistances, and expectations. The more time you spend analyzing your audience, the better prepared you are to address them. The audience will sense you have created this presentation for them to meet their needs, which will ensure they walk away with a sense of having attended an effective business presentation.

Today's task is to begin your audience analysis. Who are your listeners? What do they care about? What size of the audience will you be speaking to? What do they know about your topic, and how do they feel about it? How can you engage with them? Spend a significant amount of time analyzing and planning for the audience. You will have to help you develop an effective presentation.

In our next lesson, we will begin to organize the information you have gathered to share in ways that will reach your audience.

See you then!