How to give your audiences what they want

Our courses and books and blogs are full of great advice for improving your speeches and presentations: tell more stories, use more pauses, be more conversational, make strong eye contact, don’t overload slides with text.

But please remember one thing: all audiences are different. It’s very rare that two audiences have the same expectations about your presentation.

So a critical question to consider before you build your presentation is this: what does this audience expect from me, and how can I give it to them?

Let’s look at the expectations of some typical audiences.

The Keynote speech

This is the Holy Grail for most speakers. It’s the big set-piece, the high stakes, high impact presentation to a large audience. The audience expects to be taken on a journey, and to have a transformative experience. It’s the perfect occasion to roll out stories to engage the audience and make your message memorable.

The Keynote audience almost certainly does not want a mass of data or text-heavy slides. Above all, they want to be entertained. They want to be taken on a journey.

The Financial or Research Presentation

At the other end of the continuum is the Financial or Research Presentation. These audiences love data, and will want as many details as you can give them. They are head-oriented rather than heart-oriented. Launch into a succession of stories and they’ll start rolling their eyes.

But a slideshow, however well it is delivered, is a weak vehicle for delivering complex information. We suggest that if the facts and the charts are so important, send full documentation to the audience ahead of the presentation. Give them a chance to digest the new data.

Give a shorter presentation where you focus on emphasizing the main points and their implications. Don’t do a long slide show where you simply re-hash all of the data in the report they’ve already seem. Leave time for questions at the end.

And even with fact-hungry audiences, there is scope to appeal to their emotions. If appropriate, use a story to press home the practical application of the information you are sharing.

Departmental Update or Product Launch

This type of presentation sits right in the middle of our continuum between entertaining keynote and fact-driven report. Most presentations are about reorganizing departments or launching new initiatives or products. They are about change, and many in the audience may be skeptical. If ever there was a time to focus on benefits rather than process, it’s here.

Don’t get bogged down in the details. This is the time to emphasize the value of the changes or the new initiative or the new product. How will it change the lives of employees, or customers, or purchasers?

Use stories to put a human face on the changes you are talking about. Who benefits, how will their lives be better. But don’t just boast about your new idea or your new product; make people see how it will remove a problem from their lives.

So to sum up, before you start preparing your presentation, decide where it sits on the continuum we’ve been talking about. Understand the audience’s needs and expectations, and make sure you give them what they want, and well as making them receptive to your overall message.