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Public Speaking

What You Need to Assess About Your Audience to Make Your Presentation a Hit

Knowing who you are talking to is the first step to persuading them your idea is worth acting on.
What You Need to Assess About Your Audience to Make Your Presentation a Hit
Image credit: Luis Alvarez | Getty Images
Guest Writer
4 min read

One of the toughest aspects of being an entrepreneur is determining how your audience will respond to a new idea. You have to assess your audience prior to the pitch, or you risk that their confusion and questions will distract from your purpose.

I loved being in musicals growing up, and one of my favorite parts of live theater was anticipating how the audience might react. The most interesting part of live theater is that an audience could respond very differently to a joke that the audience the night before thought was hilarious, but over time you learn how to anticipate patterns. For example, matinee audiences are always rowdier than evening audiences, and Thursday night audiences are always more tired and less likely to engage than a Friday night audience.

Related: 15 Ways to Command a Conversation Like a Boss

Below I’ve outlined a few ways to anticipate and prepare for the audience you’re presenting to:

Set the stage.

As the originator of the idea, you’ll already be more familiar with the content than the audience themselves. It can be easy to forget that when you’ve been heavily involved in putting it together. Too often, we quickly dive into the nitty gritty before painting the bigger picture. Resist the urge to dive into the details or you may discover your audience is left confused or frustrated.

Spend some time thinking through the following:

  1. What does your audience already know about the topic?
  2. What is new that they likely won’t understand?
  3. What can you do to help them understand quickly at the start?
  4. What biases or preconceptions might they have?
  5. What presentation style would be most effective for them?

One of the most effective ways to get answers to these questions is to ask the individuals themselves or someone familiar with them, like your manager.

Related: 7 Ways to Intrique an Audience That Knows Nothing About You or Your Job

Think through the finale before the first act.

One of the most helpful things you can do before your meeting or presentation is to determine what the major takeaway or deliverable needs to be from the discussion. Put another way, how do you get this information out of your brain and into theirs? And it may come as a shock, but there is probably stuff in their brains that you want to get in yours. Mind melds are not an option; prepared, directed, thoughtful dialogue is.

Too many meetings and presentations start and end without any clear direction or level set expectations. Avoid this problem by starting with the end in mind.

Start with a frame.

Just like adding a physical frame to help focus on an enclosed piece of artwork, begin by framing your presentation. This helps your team or audience break from whatever they just finished doing by easing them into an overview of what you are about to discuss. 

Begin the meeting by sharing with them its purpose and consider reviewing the previous meeting results and action items and how you intend to demonstrate in today’s meeting what’s been accomplished since the last one. Propose ground rules and expectations for participation. It’s also a good time to confirm your pre-assessment, by asking, “What questions do we need answered? What outcomes should we seek? What is the purpose of this discussion?”  You can even write these down to help everyone remember. Wrap-up with their review.

Related: Want to Know What Your Customers Really Think? Try Working Side by Side With Them to Solve Problems.

Curtain call.

This process sounds like a lot of extra work, and it may not be necessary when everyone is very involved in the topic and already familiar with the latest and greatest results. But if you apply these principles often, it can become second nature and take only a few minutes.

What you can avoid with this type of preparation is that the pre-assessment and framing information will often come up anyway, but initially in a disjointed and confusing way. Unfortunately, when a meeting starts with challenging questions and comments that are outside the scope of the meeting it puts us on the defensive, particularly if we’re not prepared. Just like an actor rehearses their staging and memorizes their script, by preparing for your presentation with the audience in mind, you'll be guaranteed a standing ovation.

4 Tips on Becoming a Great Public Speaker