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So Who's Listening?

It's Vital to Think About Your Audience: Here's How.​

You can always tell when a speaker hasn't given his audience any thought. That's when he/she delivers a load of company stuff - often starting with a not so brief history of the business  - and then lists all the services/products they provide. You don't actually have to pay much attention to know it's boring - you just have to look at the audience. Or of course listen to the tone​ of the speaker's voice - that will sound boring too.

So it's vital to put as much thought into thinking about your audience as it is to ​all the other aspects of preparing your presentation. You might argue that you don't know the identify of all your listeners but you can usually make reasonable assumptions or make enquires beforehand. So here are the five main aspects I recommend you think and amass as much information about.

  • ​WATT otherwise know as "Why Are They There"? Think of yourself as a member of your audience and ask what you would be expecting from your presentation. . Once you've answered this - are they seeking information? solutions to a problem? looking for a deal? etc  - use your answers as the basis of your content. Try to resist the temptation to include material that doesn't fit what you've assumed, even if it involves details about your latest company achievements. Sometimes the answer to this question may be that they''ve been instructed by the boss to attend. In these cases consider cancelling your presentation!
  • Attitude. What do your audience feel about you, your business or your subject?  Will they be interested in the topic? Will there be any negative feelings about your business? Will you have any credibility in their eyes? It's always important to state or create your own credibility early on. Essentially the audience have to believe you know what you're talking about.
  • Knowledge.  How familiar with your subject matter will your audience be?  This is vital because if you start off at too high a level they will quickly switch off and it will be very hard to regain their interest. I have seen speakers very effectively check out their listeners awareness of a topic at the start of their talk and then shape the content according too the response. This of course demands a high degree of confidence and knowledge on the part of the speaker. It is therefore easier to check out beforehand - perhaps contact the organisor or some audience members.
  • Language. Not so much whether it's English or not but whether you use too much jargon. This is especially the case with dare I say any topic related to technology but also often creeps in when speakers are referring to their own business or area of knowledge. It's amazing how easy it is to use abbreviations that you understand but that your audience don't. One way to test this is to listen to one of your rehearsal talks (yes - you've used your phone to record this!) and listen for any possible difficulties. If there are you have basically three ways to deal with them: 1 leave it out; 2 find a substitute; provide an explanation (technical term is gloss) as you speak.
  • Preparing Your Audience ​You can make life easier for yourself if you let the listeners have some information in your introduction that will help them listen better. For example always give an indication of how long you will be speaking, let them know how you're going to deal with questions (any time? at the end? penultimately? after each section?); how you are dealing with handouts. Think about these aspects beforehand and let them know.

I always advise clients that they need to allow much more time than they think for preparation. Dealing with the points above is only part of it and you still have to consider your purpose, content, structure and delivery.​