You've heard it before: before you present, learn as much about the audience as you can. Gaining information about your listeners positions you to know what to say and that which you need to delete from your script. If you proceed with making a presentation without knowing exactly who is in front of you, then it can be like blindly poking and jabbing with your threaded needle in search of the right opening to affix a button. With this presentation preparation, you will know which points you should strongly emphasize, and you will know what might be hot topics that should be avoided. (Of course, politics, religion, and money are always off the table ... unless, of course you are giving something like a financial planning workshop, but I digress. Besides, you know what I mean!) When you learn as much as you can about the audience beforehand, you have a good idea of how much foundational information to provide and how deep of a dive in which you need to go to establish definitions and a framework so everyone is on the same page. Okay. Sounds good, right? But how exactly is that done? There are three stages involved with finding out who will be in your audience and how to work toward tailoring a message that will sew seeds of good ideas and resonate with your participants.
FIRST STAGE: Ask your event point of contact (POC) as many questions as possible about the audience - level/ numbers of years of experience in industry, education levels, types of degrees attained (if applicable), age range, range of attitudes toward the presentation topic, beliefs, job titles present in the audience, specific challenges the audience has, social and/or cultural considerations you may need to take under consideration, et cetera. The details you request will vary depending on the topic on which you have been asked to speak. Even go so far as to ask the POC if you can send a survey to prospective audience members beforehand, which will prove quite fruitful.
SECOND STAGE: During the presentation, listen closely to the responses participants give to questions you ask and/or comments they make in response to the content you deliver. Your most valuable tool is to watch body language VERY closely. You can almost instantly tell how receptive a person is to a message by how he/she shifts in the chair, tilts the head, raises an eyebrow, looks down, or frowns or smiles, which can be incredibly revealing. Based on what you learn during the presentation, make on-the-spot adjustments - not to appease but to improve the likelihood you reach the audience with my message and improve the likelihood you compel the audience to appropriate action.
THIRD STAGE: Upon conclusion of the presentation, review all responses and reactions and examine how well they align with the audience analysis you made based on information gained prior to the presentation. Then decide what adjustments, if any, you should make with future analyses before, during, and after your presentation.
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Photograph credit: Steve Buissinne