Know Your Audience: Present Like a Pro

In Straight Talk for Success, I point out that successful people are dynamic communicators.  If you want to become a dynamic communicator, you need to do three things: 1) become an excellent conversationalist; 2) write clearly and succinctly; and 3) design and deliver dynamite presentations.

Presentations scare a lot of people.  Do you have a fear of speaking in public?  Or does it come naturally to you?  Please leave a comment telling us about your adventures and misadventures in public speaking.

Today, I’d like to tell you a little story about one of my clients named Pat. 

Pat was very good at her job. So good in fact, that she was asked to make a presentation to the President of her Division and his direct reports on a project that she had brought in on time and under budget.

Pat knew this was a big opportunity to strut her stuff for senior management. She spent hours writing and rewriting her presentation. Then she memorized it. She was confident that she would do a great talk and be on her way to a promotion and even more success.

However, Pat made the mistake of assuming that the President wanted all of the details of her project. She put together a 45 minute presentation. Her PowerPoint slides went into great detail.

A few minutes into her talk, the Division President said, “Pat, we don’t need all of these details, please give us a high level overview. We allowed only 15 minutes for your presentation. We have only 10 minutes left.”

That knocked Pat for a loop. She had memorized her talk, and had real difficulty in deviating from it. She went right back to saying what she had practiced, not what the President had asked her to do.

After a few minutes, Pat’s boss stepped in, and presented the highlights of her project, somewhat saving the day. Pat however, was devastated. She thought she had blown her once chance to make an impression with the President and his direct reports.

She came to me for some coaching on how to become a better presenter. I worked with her closely. One of the tips I gave her right at the start was to always make sure she understood what the audience wanted and expected from her presentation. If she had done this prior to her talk for the Division President, she wouldn’t have prepared and memorized a 45 minute talk. She would have come up with something shorter that hit the highlights of her project.

Pat got a second chance. By then, she had worked hard at becoming an excellent presenter. She wowed the President and his direct reports in her next talk, and eventually got the promotion that propelled her to a great career in her company.

The common sense point here is simple.  Effective presentations begin with a thorough audience analysis.  Before you put pen to paper, or begin creating PowerPoint slides, you need to take the time to get a complete understanding of your audience.  Who are they?  Why will they be listening to your talk?  What do they hope to get from your talk?  How long are they expecting you to speak?  If you spend time getting the answers to these questions, you not only find it easier to design your presentation, you’ll give a better talk.  Once you get to know your audience, all you have to do is meet their needs and wants and you’ll become known as a dynamic presenter and communicator.

That’s my take on how a thorough audience analysis will make you a better presenter.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your best presentation success secrets.  Thanks for reading – and writing.

Bud

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