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When we’re worried about presenting, it’s common to focus on ourselves – our worries, how we’re feeling. But the most important element in any presentation is your audience. You’re there to connect your ideas to them in a way that elicits some form of action. Your presentation is for them, not for you.
It follows then that the more deeply you understand your audience, the better chance you have of achieving what you’re setting out to. As Stephen Covey says, first seek to understand, then you can be understood.
I learnt this the hard way. About a year into running my consultancy, I picked up a major multinational tech company as a client. I was thrilled. I did my prep, delivered the programme, and it went well. So well that they immediately booked me to deliver again to a second group. Everyone was happy. No problems here.
Fast-forward a few weeks and I get a panicked call from the client’s EA. She asks if I run any sessions on business storytelling. A trainer she’d arranged as part of a week-long workshop has pulled out. Can I help?
At that stage, I was testing ideas in this space; although I hadn’t delivered them to corporates, I was confident I could adapt my material. “I’ll do it. How many people in the room?” I ask. Then I got to work preparing. However, I was assuming my previous sessions at the company gave me enough knowledge of the audience. And I was wrong.
It turned out that most of this group had flown in from various parts of Asia. They were part of a two-year leadership development programme and reflected the brightest, best, star employees. There were also double the number of people in the room. The local team who had done my last course had wanted to join. A compliment, but also a problem.
I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t prepared for them. And minutes into my session, they knew it. I was sweating and unable to answer their questions sufficiently; it was a train-wreck.
This experience remains one of the most humiliating I’ve had as a trainer, and I was angry that I hadn’t followed my own advice: Never take an audience for granted. I knew better – and now you can too.
The four most crucial questions to ask to ensure you know your audience
When you present, you’re asking your audience to give you some of their (very limited) attention, so you need to develop your presentation to respect that. Respecting your audience means considering their needs and designing your message for them. If you don’t know, don’t assume. Ask someone. Get clear. Remember: loose briefs cause grief.
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