You speak differently when you call your dog for dinner and when you ask your boss for a promotion.
You might not know it, but you’ve got more than one voice. You wouldn’t discuss a pay raise with your boss in the same way that you would call your dog home for dinner, would you?
Every day, we naturally adapt our style, our “voice”, depending on who we’re talking to and what we’re talking about. The same goes for presentations. People are egocentric: they will only listen if the information is relevant to them. So, take some time to adapt your message to best suit your audience!
Audience analysis may sound like a fancy term, but it just means thinking and learning about who you’ll be talking to. What’s their background? What are their experiences? What’s their knowledge level on the subject matter? What are they expected to do with the information you provide?
Analysing the audience includes thinking about both the demographics and attitudes of the people in the room.
Demographic Analysis means understanding the audience in terms of their age, gender, culture, ethnicity, religion and level of education.
Our demographics colour our understanding and experience of the world. By understanding the demographic makeup (and spread) of your audience, you will avoid those awkward situations like when your joke about that 80s movie fell flat in front of a millennial audience, or when the 70+ age group stared blankly after you referenced your favourite Instagram filter.
However, be wary of stereotyping! Not all 6-year-old boys want to be firemen when they grow up.
An understanding of the demographics of your audience will allow you to adapt your delivery pace when you’re speaking to a very international audience, with many non-native English speakers. If you assume that everyone’s first language is English, you might speak too fast, causing your message to be lost on a number of audience members.
Attitudinal Analysis means understanding what the members in the audience like and dislike, what they believe to be true or false, their interest level, their level of knowledge, their expectation and their voluntariness to be listening to you speak.
If your audience are also experts on your topic, you’ll be able to use more jargon and industry-specific references than you would if you were speaking to the general public or a group of teenagers.
Will the audience members need to make a decision following your presentation? Will they decide to approve your project, extend a deadline, or provide funding? What will the audience do with the information you provide? Do they really want to listen to you or is their company requiring them to do so?
Let’s be realistic
Of course, you’re usually not able to gather detailed information on all audience members, with exact data on age, ethnicity, position, level of knowledge or political leanings. However, by spending some time thinking about both the demographic and attitudinal aspects mentioned above, you should be able to draw a reasonable picture of who will be in the audience.
“You have a symbiotic relationship with the audience. Without them, there’s nothing for you to do. Without you, they have no reason for being there. So you’re dependent upon one another to pull this thing off”
How to research your audience
If you’re presenting in an industry conference, you can ask the organisers about the profile of the participants from previous conferences. If you’re presenting within your company, you should find out who will be invited to the meeting. If you don’t know who some of the participants are, look them up and see what their positions are – think about how their roles in the company will influence their “agendas” during the meeting.
Following your audience analysis, your next task is to think about what you want that particular audience (or even better, one particular “typical” member of that audience) to think, feel, or do following your presentation. Remember the answer to that question will depend on the audience. Tomorrow, in front of a completely different audience, your presentation on the same subject matter could have a totally different approach and level of detail.
For each presentation, you need to take the time to study your audience. Think about how to “speak their language” and tailor your message for most impact.
Your message is for them, so tailor it to them.