When you are on stage to speak, you must create a connection with your audience. Knowing your audience is an important part of that; if you don’t know your audience well, you will have the opposite effect and create disconnection instead of connection.
Can’t you just get up, be your authentic self and share your knowledge? Unfortunately, that’s not enough… let me explain.
There is a great quote by Seth Godin I love; “Sell nuts to squirrels, don’t try to persuade dolphins that nuts are delicious”. When you have a big audience full of dolphins and you present a powerful talk about the nutritious benefits of nuts, you will not have a very engaged audience. No matter how passionate you are about the subject, there will be twitchy fins and wandering minds, counting down the moments until the end of your talk.
By getting to know more about your audience before your present, you will be able to customize your presentation to their interest and knowledge levels. By the way, in the unlikely event that you actually find yourself in a room needing to present to dolphins; bring fish, squid and crustaceans – that’ll be sure to catch their interest! 😉
There are several factors that determine your audience’s willingness and ability to engage with your presentation including their interest in your subject matter and their knowledge levels of your subject matter.
Let’s break them down:
Your Audience’s Interest In Your Subject Matter
Determine your audience’s interest levels prior to your presentation. If their interest levels are high, your work is easy; if their interest levels are low, you will have to include content to increase their interest levels. Have a conversation with the organizer to gauge the interest level ahead of you taking the stage if you can; if that’s not possible, be prepared with engaging stories and encouragement to up the game. Having unwilling participants in a presentation is difficult, but if that happens to you, think about what you can provide to create value for this audience. Helping them to peak their interest in your subject matter may be the greatest gift you can give them.
Your Audience’s Knowledge Level In Your Subject Matter
If possible, gauge your audience’s knowledge level ahead of your presentation. If you give a technical talk, always err on the side of caution, assuming your audience has low knowledge levels. This means that you must adjust the language you use and also build in “check-points” where you check in with your audience if they keep up with the content you are presenting. As experts in our subject matters, it’s easy for us to forget that not everyone around us has the same knowledge levels.
I have learned this one that hard way. When we owned our printing company, I regularly did presentations on print order specifications and tips on how to prepare files for print. I loved those presentations; after all I got to share what I was passionate about and I definitely knew what I was talking about. I loved getting into all the details – the necessary amounts of bleeds for the design, CMYK vs. RGB colour spaces and ideal design sizes for optimal use of the various paper sizes used in print. Even writing this blog post, I feel the excitement and I could go on and on writing about this topic. But my assumption is as you’re reading this, you are far less excited about this than I am – and you may even quietly ask yourself “what’s a bleed?”.
When I was presenting these talks, I realized very quickly that my audience didn’t have the same knowledge levels I did (after all, that’s why I did these presentations – to educate print buyers) – and they didn’t keep up with the “tech-talk” I was so passionately delivering. I learned that when your audience has a glazed look in their eyes, it’s a sure sign of disconnection. I also learned that small adjustments in a presentation can make a world of a difference. I began explaining more of the industry terms – coming back to our bleed example: “bleed” is the expression used for creating a document with images or other elements touching the edge of the page and creating them so they “overprint” over edge of the page with no white space showing when you cut it. Since this is still a quite complex concept even with the explanation, I started adding visuals to it like this:
Once I combined the easy to understand explanation and supported it with the simple visuals, I noticed a shift. Not only did my audience look at me with alert eyes and was able to follow my presentation, but I achieved my set goal: I raised my audience’s knowledge level.
When we speak it’s not about showing off what we know and they don’t, but about finding a way to share our knowledge with passion and compassion and meeting our audience where they’re at to create change.
I believe in you,
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