Thursday, September 29, 2011

Know your Audience

“Who will be sitting in the audience when you present?”   That’s a question I always ask when coaching folks on their presentations skills. I’m often surprised when the answer is, “I’m not sure who will be there.”  Knowing your audience – the specific attendees or at least the nature of those you’ll be speaking to – is critical to making a successful presentation.

Be a detective

Here are some questions to ask yourself, and to ask your manager and others who might better know your audience or the meeting attendees:
·        How much do the attendees know about my subject?
·        Are they technical?  Managers? A mix?
·        And, if a mix, at what level do I pitch my presentation?
·        How well do they know me? Do I need to establish my credentials or expertise, or can I skip that information?
·        What attitude does the audience have?  Friendly? Eager? Skeptical? Hostile?

Moreover, learn the names of the people who will be at your meeting, if possible.  At work, an agenda is often sent out by email. Look at the distribution list, note the names you recognize, and find out who the other people are, whether they will be at the meeting, and what their interest is in your topic.

Knowing the attendees is not possible at a large conference, though you should have a good idea of their level of expertise and interest. However, in a smaller meeting, you can and need to know who will be attending. Often an interruption or question arises from the audience (in person or via teleconferencing), and you want to be able to know who asked the question, as well as ascertain the reasoning of the questioner. 

Everyone needs a friend

I mentioned in a previous blog that it’s important to have an ally or supporter in the audience or at the meeting.  Find the most respected person you can, share in advance your material and get his/her buy-in, and make sure your ally is at the meeting. We all need such support. The notion of walking in alone and handling the situation, like John Wayne at high noon in a western town, is usually only effective in cowboy movies.

If you get questions or push back on your idea, that’s the time to turn to your ally and ask for his/her comments. Use your ally to bolster your credibility. If he/she knows and agrees to what you are proposing, you’ll have a much easier chance of success with a skeptical audience.

Who is the decision-maker?  

If the purpose of your presentation is to gain a “yes” for your recommendation or get approval for a project or resources, always make sure the decision-maker is present. Otherwise, you may have wasted time and energy, you may suffer an unnecessary defeat, and you may lose the chance to present again to the “right” person.  

If you are not sure who the decision-maker is, ask.  Your manager is an excellent resource because he/she likely knows the politics, the budgets, the constraints, and the decision-makers.  Find out the person or persons you need to influence, and start the influencing process well in advance of your presentation.

No one likes to be surprised, especially anyone in the position of making a decision.  The more information you provide to your stakeholders and decision-makers in advance of your actual presentation, the easier your presentation will go.  It might even be fun!

Next time, we’ll look at our five presenters introduced in an earlier blog, and explore in more detail what they need to know about their audiences that will help them craft effective presentations.


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