Effective Audience Analysis
Do you know how to connect with your audience?
Hey, gang. Today’s question comes from Mike in Canada. He is transitioning from technical sales to technical training. While in sales, Mike created and delivered his own presentations. Now, as part of the training team, he delivers presentations that have been created by other people.
Actually, Mike isn’t the only one who has asked me this question. I remember when I first started the show I received an email from someone who worked in Human Resources. She was required to deliver presentations that were created by the home office, and she asked the same question as Mike.
How to Deliver Someone Else’s Material
And that is, “How do you effectively deliver someone else’s material?”
Especially in larger organizations, standard presentations are often created in an effort to ensure consistent communication. However, for most people it’s much more difficult to deliver a presentation or training session using someone else’s slides or material than it is to deliver their own material. And, in my experience, when presentations (or training sessions) go horribly wrong, the root cause almost always boils down to one thing: The presentation didn’t resonate with the audience because the material wasn’t specific enough for that particular audience.
Unfortunately, when you make a presentation developed by someone else, this problem is much more likely to surface. The person or group that creates the material usually has a generic audience in mind, or maybe a specific audience, but that usually isn’t YOUR particular group that you’re making the presentation to. And unless you take steps to adapt the material for your participants, you’re guaranteed to have a problem.
So what can you do?
Adapt for This Particular Audience
How do you reach your audience and connect with them? You’ll want to find out as much as you can so that you can adapt the presentation to the needs, interests, and background of your listeners.
It may seem simple and obvious, but it deserves extra attention. It’ the most important thing you can do for any presentation. The more you understand about the participants, their work environment, and the stresses they face, the more successful you’ll be at making a solid connection. I can’t emphasize that enough.
When I’ve had (let’s just say) less than stellar results, it was because I took a shortcut on the audience analysis process. It’s critical to spend the time necessary to get to know all of the involved stakeholders.
First, talk to the people who requested the presentation. Find out their expectations. What do they want the audience to say, think, or do differently when you’re done talking? You need for them to articulate this so that they themselves are clear about what they want.
Facilitate Planning Discussions
What I do is use a planning document with a variety of questions to help facilitate discussions. The goals of these conversations are to document expectations and to find out what they think the participants already know and don’t know about the topic.
Next, I always ask to talk with a few potential attendees. I like to ask similar questions and I often use the same planning tool. With the participants, I also discuss and request related work examples.
If possible, I also like to speak with a well-respected and well-liked senior manager within the organization so that I can understand his or her perspective. I like to incorporate into the training direct quotes from that person. Sometimes I ask that person to introduce the session because his or her endorsement sets a positive tone for the session.
Don’t Shortcut the Process
At times, I need to use my persuasive skills to convince the client of the value of this effort, because it does take time. Again, I can’t emphasize enough just how important this process is. The more people you can talk with, the better you’ll be able to connect.
It’s not unusual to receive very different responses and different understandings of expectations depending on whom you talk with. If you don’t talk to enough of the stakeholders, you just don’t get a complete picture.
It’s important not to shortcut the process. The main goals should be to complete a formal audience analysis and to collect real examples. Let me talk about the audience analysis first, because I’m not sure that many people do this.
Create an Audience Analysis Slide
I create a slide. It’s a hidden slide, meaning I’m the only one who ever sees it. I create it to paint a picture of the people involved. After each conversation, I fill in details and it helps me to keep track of what I still need to find out. When I’m editing the presentation material, this slide helps me keep focused on the importance of connecting to THIS particular audience.
Specifically, the slide outlines the responses to the following questions: Who are they? What do they already know? What do they want to know? How might they resist? Finally, and most importantly, what should they say, think, or do differently as a result of hearing me speak? Again, the slide isn’t projected; I just like to include it in the slide set to keep me focused.
Recently, I did a public speaking program for architects, preservationists, and city planners. If you’d like to see the audience analysis slide that I created for that presentation, just check the link in the show notes.
Review the Material
Once you’ve filled in the audience analysis slide with as much detail as possible, the next step is to review the material. The very first time you go through the material, be sure to pay very close attention to your subtle gut reactions. If something seems slightly confusing to you, it’s likely that it will confuse your audience. Trust your reactions and modify the material to make it clear and concise.
If it’s a training program, you’ll also need to work through all of the exercises. Almost all standard material contains mistakes and you’ll need to know what the mistakes are. Going through the exercises yourself also helps you to gauge how much time you’ll need to allocate for each section. It’s a time-consuming process, but well worth the effort.
Modify the Material
Finally, every time you present the material, you’ll need to modify it so that it’s practical and applicable for each group of participants. Based on your planning discussions, you may need to cut entire sections of material, add entirely new pieces, or both. Or maybe it has all the right pieces, but you need to adjust the order. Or perhaps you need to change the level of the information; it might be too basic or too expert.
You’ll definitely need to change some of the examples. Be sure to review every example, even minor examples, one by one, and confirm that each is relevant and applicable for this particular group. If not, the example has to be changed. In fact, even if it is applicable, it’s much better if you can incorporate real work examples that you have gathered from the actual participants.
So there you have it, Mike: quick and dirty tips (OK, maybe I should say, “time-consuming-but-really-worth-the-effort tips”) to help your presentations resonate with the audience, even when you are using material that someone else created.
This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
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