Presentations are not just opportunities for you to talk, show some numbers or pictures, and maybe get a laugh or two; they are much more than that. Let’s start with what a presentation is. It can be when you are up in front of a room with people listening to you talk about a specific topic. It can also be project meetings, one on one meetings, hallway conversations, and social media posts which are just as much presentations as the front of the room kind and deserve the same kind of preparation and intention.
With that definition in mind, the ultimate goal of each presentation is to cause something to stir in the audience so that each person leaves with a new idea, new goal, or new challenge. Your presentation is a chance to make a difference in someone’s life.
I keep these three ideas in mind as I prepare for each kind of presentation and throughout each presentation because sometimes you have to read the audience and adjust.
Who is the audience? Before you present, you need to know how many people you will be communicating with and their familiarity with the topic. If it’s a small groups of experts, then it will be an in depth discussion on a few points while a large group with little familiarity will mean an overview. Every presentation should be tailored to the audience and not be a rote reading of the same facts and telling of the same stories.
We’ve come to understand the power of knowing your audience on social media – everything is targeted to the finest detail possible – you should do no less for your presentations to the degree you can. If you stop and think about it, you likely know enough about most of your audiences to make it personal so your presentation makes a difference to them.
“The most important thing to remember is you must know your audience.”– Lewis Howes
What does your audience need? Now that you know who your audience is, you should answer these questions: Why are they attending this presentation? Why should they care about what you are saying? If this is a hallway conversation on the way to lunch the answer to these two questions is: Because you were walking in the same direction, and you struck up a good conversation on the way. On the other hand, if it is a project meeting the answers are likely: To get or share an update, and because you have information/resources/approval authority they need.
When it comes to audience needs, think big picture and small picture. What are their career goals, personal goals, what happened today? You have to take all of this into consideration to have a presentation that makes a difference. Even if it is just a walk to lunch.
“If you target audience isn’t listening, it’s not their fault, it’s yours.” – Seth Godin
How can I add value to the audience? You know who the audience is and what they need, now it’s time to plan how you can deliver that to them. I believe that the presentation process works best when the audience is not given the answer but is lead through a series of stories, questions, challenges in which they find their answer. It’s not enough that you are passionate about your topic, your audience needs to be passionate for themselves.
Frank Capra, the director of It’s a Wonderful Life, and other great movies said it like this, “I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when the actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.”
Take your audience through an experience in your presentation where they can find their answer.
“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Carl W. Buechner.