Given that any presentation will only be worthwhile if it adds some level of value to the audience hearing it, taking time and trouble understanding your audience and their needs and interests is absolutely essential.
The following list provides an idea of the aspects you should consider :
- Who are they ?
- What do they do ?
- At what level do they operate in their company or in their community/society ?
- How many will there be ?
- Why are they there ? Do they want to be there or do they have to be there ?
- What are their expectations of you ?
- Will they be friendly, or hostile, or neutral towards you, or your topic ?
- What are their interests ?
- What is their educational level ?
- Do they have the technical expertise that might be needed to understand your message ?
- What is the dominant socio-economic status ?
- What is their mother tongue ? Do they have a good understanding of the language you will be using ?
- What is the dominant gender – male, female, other ?
- How old are they – young, middle-aged, old, mixed ?
- Do they have strong religious views – if so, what religion ?
- Will they have cultural practices that must be observed ?
- Is their political affinity important to them ?
- What is their general approach to life ? Are they rigid and formal, with conservative views, or are they more relaxed ?
- How do they dress ? Formal, smart casual, casual ?
- Are they rural people, or urbanites ?
There will always be more aspects you could add to the list – some linked to the subject matter, some linked to the location, some linked to the occasion. (For example, people attending a 21st birthday celebration will be in a festive mood, while those attending a funeral will be feeling more sombre.)
It is worth having a look at your venue too, as you consider your audience. Will you be on a stage, and distanced from your audience ? Or will you be able to interact more intimately ? Will they be sitting comfortably, or will they be standing and thus preferring a shorter speech ?
The timing of your speech is also important. Will you be speaking first, and setting the tine for your audience ? Will you be speaking last, when your audience is tired, and ready to leave for home ? (Martin Luther King Jnr found himself in this position on the day he gave his “I have a dream” speech. He never intended the speech he gave. His notes never included “I have a dream”. But he was forced to add energy to his presentation by the time of day, and the mood of the crowd. He spoke from a sermon he has recently given on “I have a dream”. It worked. He changed the world.)
Your topic might not be your choice – for example, you might have been asked to talk on Mandela Day and its importance, or on the importance of being debt-free, or on the need for diversity awareness in the workplace – but the way you structure your speech, the anecdotes and the language you use, the audio-visual aids you use, the tone you adopt, are entirely up to you.
John F Kennedy is credited with saying “There is only one good reason to give a speech – to change the world”.
Your task, when you present, is to change some aspect of the world in which you operate.
You could leave people more informed or more inspired or more energised or thinking differently depending on what presentation you deliver to them. You could leave them with real value-add as a result of your delivery, plus, hopefully, impressed with you as a speaker.
Or, you could leave them thoroughly bored and unimpressed with the time they have spent achieving very little during your presentation. And most unimpressed with your level f understanding of them and their issues.
Be sure – if you do not take the trouble to understand your audience and prepare entirely with them in mind, you will be lucky to avoid the latter scenario.
So, as you prepare your speech, at every step of the way, bear your audience in mind. Have a very clear picture of why, who, where, when they are. Prepare a speech that addresses their needs and interests, and not only yours. Follow this advice, and you will massively increase your chances of success, of truly connecting with your audience and changing the world in every way that you can.