Audience – Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. In public speaking, I believe that 80% of presentation success is meeting your audience’s expectations. Address their concerns when you present and they’ll give you high marks as a great speaker.
All audiences want your presentation to focus on their needs. Nancy Duarte exhorts, “Realize that you’re not the hero of your presentation. Your audience is the hero of your idea.” An audience changes everything. They define your words. They frame your images. They set your worth. They are the final judge of your success.
Without an audience, your words become a mere recitation of information, facts and stories. The audience IS the reason for your appearance. Perhaps Stephen Soundheim most aptly put it when he said, “When the audience comes in, it changes the temperature of what you’ve written.”
Audience: Magic Key #1 for Presentation Success
Video: Know, meet, & engage
Know, Meet, & Engage Your Audience
1) Know your audience
Find out who they are on as many levels as you possibly can. The more information you learn about them the more you can address their concerns. Talk to the person who is bringing you in to speak and do the following:
- Ask about the top concerns of the group.
- Find out if the group is facing unique challenges.
- See if anything has recently changed in the lives of your audience.
- Consider if your audience is at the beginning, middle or end of a life experience, work, school, parenthood, etc.
- Learn why they are coming to hear you speak.
Customize your presentation with this information. Make your presentation audience specific.
2) Meet your audience
Every presenter wants to address a friendly face. Meet with your audience members before you present. Create connections with people. Let them see you not as “the speaker,” but as a person whom they hope will succeed. Meeting people before you speak means that when you present you’ll see new friends. This can go a long way to putting you at ease and making your presentation more conversational.
- Meet your audience before taking the stage. Show up early to meet and mingle with them before your formal presentation.
- Connect with people on an individual basis. Ask for their personal feelings about your topic. Their responses might provide you with some last minute insight into that particular group.
- Stay late. Take questions from the audience. Find out what part of your message meant the most to them. Their insight is very valuable.
3) Engage your audience
To captivate attention while you speak, you must engage them on a variety of levels.
Multi-level engagement of your audience requires variety: facial, spatial, and vocal.
- Eyes: Look directly at people. In a small room, attempt to look at everyone during your presentation. In a large room, select a few friendly people in different parts of the room and have conversations with them.
- Feet: Get close to your audience. Leave the lectern. Come down from the podium. Move around your space. Don’t pace, but use the space to walk to different points while holding the gaze of one person as you walk towards them.
- Voice: Vary your vocal pitch and pace during your presentation. Add pauses at appropriate moments to create tension or emphasis. Imagine your voice being the sole method of engaging and holding your audience’s attention. Think radio. Pausing and lowering your tone will literally draw an audience closer to you.
Finally, engage your audience with passion. Be “on” when you present. An audience will forgive many things if you give them your story, straight from the heart, with passion. Passion is not the icing on the cake. It is the cake. This passion does not need to be shown a la Tony Robbins style, but there should be some spark, some magic, to your presence. Passion makes your message come alive and directly connects you with the audience.
Summary: For a successful presentation, you must meet your audience’s needs and expectations.
Recommended reading: John C. Maxwell’s “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect”
Charles’ Presentation Magazine article “Holding an Audience’s Attention for 20 Minutes (or More).”
Let me know your thoughts. Leave a comment. What methods do you use to connect with your audiences?
Audience is the first part of Charles’ “Three Magic Keys to Successful Presentations.” In upcoming posts, Charles will be discussing the other two magic keys, preparation & practice.
Charles Greene III Presentation Magician