Audience preparedness: some hints and helps

In our last post we mentioned how professional presenters (especially speakers) are great at adapting their ready-made presentations to suit the audience they find themselves facing.

But what happens if you are just beginning, and are depending almost entirely on your slide deck to see you through your session? What if you were expecting a favorable audience and instead find a hostile audience? Can you still run smoothly and confidently through your prepared material? Or will everything start falling apart as you secretly panic about losing the audience even before you have a chance of winning them over?

If any of these questions have ever given you grief, read on! We have a few suggestions that may help you overcome your very natural doubts and fears.

  1. Forewarned is forearmed: By which we mean, do your best to find out everything you can about your prospective audience well in advance… If it’s a client pitch, ask your liaison person to give you a rough idea of who will be attending – and prepare accordingly. Whether it’s all senior level, middle level, only the finance team or the legal team or – as is most likely – a mix,  you need to ensure that your presentation has at least one set of points that are directed at each of these audience members. Depending on the eventual composition, you can tweak, underplay or highlight them accordingly. Numbers are good to know: if you assumed you were going to present to 10 people and find yourself facing (even virtually) a 100 instead, you may be thrown completely off-guard! Don’t let that happen.
  2. There’s no such thing as being overprepared: By which we mean, go overboard with your pre-presentation research! It can only help you cope with any unexpected turn. For example, suppose you have built your entire presentation keeping the legal aspect in mind, and then find yourself talking to the sales and marketing team instead, how can you pivot your slides without missing a beat? Simply by knowing your material so well that you can narrate and co-relate the facts and figures on the deck to the marketing angle just as easily and persuasively. (Also see our earlier post on thinking about the “pre” in presentations!)
  3. The audience is only human: By which we mean, you have more in common with the strangest, most unexpected or indifferent audience than you think! Never underestimate the human element, even in the most professional of settings. An ice-breaker, in the form of a personal anecdote or a humorous story, can go a long way towards establishing a connection between presenter and audience. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself: what would make me pay attention, and feel intrigued? (To refresh and renew your links with your inner storyteller you might like to revisit an earlier post…) Keep a bank of “human interest” material handy  and you will not find yourself at a loss.

With these 3 things in mind, we hope you can go fearlessly forward towards your next presentation. Good luck!