CONTENT – check
SLIDES – check
NOTES – check
PRACTICE – check
Presentations usually turn out to be events where we share what we know about the topic. The updates we think are important for the listeners. But whether it’s a toast at a wedding, an office presentation, a meeting or experience sharing at your alma mater – each event has a different kind of audience. And we speak for them, not ourselves. Some times, the audience will be a similar set of people – a team meeting or a diverse bunch – like a birthday party. Choosing your content that goes with the audience is the key to success. Here’s how:
Audience analysis is a key aspect of any speaking situation. The more audience oriented you are, the easier it’ll be for the audience to stay with you till the end. Here are a few ways to analyse your audience for a speech:
Audience type: By this, I mean the a general category that you can put your audience into. A family group or a work group. Generally younger bunch or a mixed crowd.
Audience size: This makes a lot of difference in the way you prepare for the talk. A small intimate group will need very relevant and focussed content. You may not use the stage or microphone. You gestures will be a lot smaller. A big group demands dramatic gestures and more power in your voice. And content that appeals generally to everyone.
Audience knowledge: What is the extent of the audience’s knowledge in the subject matter. If your talk is a project status update and it’s mostly your team, feel free to use jargons and acronyms. But if it’s for the stakeholders to apprise them of your work, slipping in a little exposition might be a good idea.
Audience expectations: You may bring in the best content for the audience. But does the audience want to hear it? No matter what you think about the content, the audience comes with its own expectations. For instance, a toast – no matter many hilarious stories you have about the birthday boy – is appreciated when it is short and sticks to the point. Any longer and you are just getting in the between the guests and the festivities.
Audience demographic: Is the audience primarily men? Or is the majority women? What is the age distribution like? Are there different nationalities involved? It might not be possible to analyse every set of audience in such great detail. But you’ll thank yourself for considering these parameters where the speaking situation calls for it. For instance, you could be called up on to address the latest batch at your alma mater in a different country. It’ll help to dissect the audience more carefully here.
Cross cultural context: This is important especially if you are going to talk to people from a different country/countries. From small talk to sense of humour, you’ll need to watch out for the right spot. Some cultures love small talk whereas others frown upon it. You don’t want to assume everyone else will appreciate being asked after their families like we do in our country.
There are different kinds of audience. But human nature is pretty much the same everywhere. And that’s why Aristotle, that wise old man from Greece, gave us three big pillars to base our formal speeches on. These can help you a great deal while you prepare for your presentation. You can be more of less sure that a talk based on these will be successful in most situations. Let’s look at what each means –
Ethos: is the credibility of a person as a speaker. It could by virtue of your standing in the community or the command over the subject. For instance, if you are a PhD holder in a subject related to the talk, the audience is more likely to take you as credible. Similarly, if you the project head, you are the person to talk about it. So you need to make sure that people look up to you as the right person to talk to them. You can do that right at the start – if people don’t know you well – by telling them your credentials and what makes you the right person to talk to them.
Logos: Logic is central to human understanding. Even if someone with authority goes up on the stage and proclaims that distributing free footwear to the poor will end world poverty – the logic doesn’t quite add up. And the audience will lose interest. Hence it is important to follow logic in your presentation.
Pathos: As you can see in the figure above, pathos is by far the most important. Pathos is appeal to emotions of the audience. Unless you create this connection, you’ll never grab the attention of the audience. This can be done by using similes, metaphors or stories. Pathos becomes all the more central when the speech involves getting people to take a course of action. Like donating for homeless kids or taking actions to save the planet.
The audience is the most important – yet often neglected – part of a presentation. Be sure to give them the respect due to them when they turn up to listen to you.
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