Presentations

by Steve Roche

Your audience

It is natural to focus on oneself as presenter, but the most important people are the audience, without whom you wouldn’t have a presentation.

Outcomes

People will have their own outcomes from attending your presentation. So think about your attendees: why are they there?

Sometimes the answer is because they have to be. But even then there is usually something you have – information, proposals, policies, stories – that they want or need to hear.

And usually, they want to enjoy it. Always, they want you to be interesting, audible and easy to understand and, of course, to finish when you said you would.

Logical levels

It can be helpful to use Logical levels when thinking about what the audience wants.

Environment and behaviour

Your audience want to be comfortable, to be able to see and hear you, to know how long it is until the next comfort break, and whether or not to ask questions and take notes. Unless these needs are met, their attention may not be fully on you.

Capabilities

You may need to establish their level of knowledge about the subject matter. It may help to know something of their ability to learn, absorb and understand.

Beliefs and values

You are unlikely to win over your audience unless you can show that you respect their beliefs and values. How much do you know about what is important to the groups or individuals within the audience? If you are addressing a new group, you may need to do some research beforehand, and if you cannot find out, use some intelligent guesswork.

Identity

What is their status? Or, more importantly, what’s their perception of their own status relative to you?

The more you can answer these questions and meet these needs in your audience, the more successful you will be.

States

Skilful presenters manage not only their own state, but also that of the audience. Initially, audience members are probably questioning:

What’s in this for me? Why am I here? Who is this person? Why are they talking to me?

You need to provide answers as soon as you can.

Before you start, be clear as to what state you want your audience to be in, during and after your talk. Think about your outcomes. How do you want them to go away?

  • Enthusiastic and motivated?
  • Prepared for change?
  • Cheered up?
  • Calmed down?
  • Well-informed?
  • Fired up and ready for action?

Once you know what you are aiming for, you can start to move them from their initial state to the state you want to create. You can do this in a variety of ways:

  • Structuring your material
  • Using anchoring
  • Changing the room layout
  • Speaking their language
  • Dressing like them (if in doubt, dress up).

The last two are examples of the general principles of rapport.

Managing states

It is important to be continually monitoring your audience (and yourself) in order to manage states. Here is an example that shows how to plan actions to move an audience from their initial state to the state you want them in:

1. Describe the presentation you will be making and the type of audience.

In this instance, delivering a project report to a group of peers and senior managers.

2. What are the goals for the presentation?

State the goal for yourself in terms of the internal state you would like to maintain. State the goal for the group in terms of internal state into which you would like to lead them, or the kind of relationship you would like to achieve.

  • Self: authoritative, but open to challenge.
  • Group: receptive, questioning and collaborative.

3. What will you use as evidence to know you are accomplishing these goals?

  • Self: even tone of voice and relaxed body language.
  • Group: leaning forward, making eye contact, asking for information or clarity and making suggestions.

4. What specific steps and activities will you use to achieve your goals during the presentation?

  • Self: demonstrate command of material; answer questions fully and openly.
  • Group: monitor audience reactions; keep checking their understanding, and ensure that the material is relevant.

5 a) What problems or difficulties could arise during the presentation?

  • Self: lose contact with the group.
  • Group: fall out of rapport and lose interest.

5 b) What specifically could you build into your presentation to correct or avoid problems?

  • Self: maintain eye contact with all; address or involve individuals directly, and admit to not having all the answers.
  • Group: use examples that relate to their current and future work; ask them questions.

Behaviour patterns

You can use these patterns to make assumptions – informed guesses – about people and situations you may not have been able to research in advance.

When I begin a presentation to a group I do not know, I find it useful to assume that the members of the group will have the following patterns:

  • Internal to me: they are each wondering

‘Who the hell is this woman and what makes her think she has something of value to offer me?’

  • Away from, with regard to what I am presenting

They will notice any mistakes, inappropriate remarks, or examples that are not relevant to them.

  • Consistent:

They will like me when I say or do something they agree with, and dislike me should I step out of line with regard to their expectations.

Shelle Rose Charvet, Words that Change Minds

Although the assumptions made by the highly experienced presenter quoted above may at first appear negative, they actually help her to prepare to address the group’s internal pattern.

Internal patterns

Assumptions along the lines suggested above can do two things for you right from the start:

They encourage you to take steps to establish your credibility

They suggest the internal influencing language that will be required – ‘I will be presenting some information for you to consider in your work. I invite you to compare it to your own experience and decide what you think’.

Away from

The assumption behind the away from pattern suggests saying:

You know your work area much better than I do. We’ll have the chance to adapt these ideas to your environment. I’m sure you’ll notice which parts are appropriate and which are not.

The consistent pattern

To deal with the consistent pattern, you will need to constantly monitor the individuals in the group for signs of disagreement, confusion and concern. Invite someone with a concerned face to tell you what they are thinking, so you can respond.

Establishing your credibility and providing information to support your points will address the internal and away from patterns in your audience.

Also look at the information on approachability and credibility in the Rapport topic.

Who is your audience?

What other ways can you think of to categorise audiences and predict their needs and reactions? This is one of those instances where a bit of mind-reading can be helpful!

Audience assessment checklist

Each time you prepare for a presentation, run through this checklist to ensure your material meets the needs, interests and abilities of your audience.

1. Why is the audience being assembled?

What common background (profession, values, need for your information or interest in your topic) brings them together?

2. What is their level of expertise?

  • How much do they know about your topic?
  • How much relevant experience have they had?
  • What level of sophistication do they have?

3. What does the audience need from your presentation?

  • Practical, applicable ideas or techniques?
  • Information for making a decision?
  • Your recommendations and the reason for them?
  • Stimulating new ideas?
  • Entertainment?

4. What is the audience’s attitude towards this presentation?

  • Supportive and interested?
  • Open-minded and curious?
  • Tolerant?
  • Neutral?
  • Sceptical?
  • Disagreeable or hostile?

5. What are the audience’s significant characteristics?

  • How many people will attend?
  • What is their age range?
  • What is the male/female ratio?
  • What is the degree of diversity?

6. What expectations will the audience have about the presentation? (In other words, what are they used to?)

  • What is the usual level of formality?
  • What is the standard room set-up?
  • What degree of flexibility and variety is there?
  • What is the typical format?
  • What style of dress is usual?

Divide these items into ‘what I know’ and ‘what I don’t know’. If you don’t know, how will you find out? If you can’t find out, how well can you estimate or guess?