Presentations – Who is Listening?

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When planning your presentations, your first consideration is your target audience. Are these employees — or sales prospects? How big is your group? When and where are you presenting to your audience?

Understanding Your Audience

For example, you have 12 staff members coming to learn about changes to outage responses. These people have specific technical knowledge and have been in their position for months or years. There is a chance that some of the participants work in satellite offices, but either working together or remotely many or all of these people know each other. Plan to make your participants feel welcome.

Small Audiences

Recognise a small group of familiar participants by name, in addition to the start time, break time and policy for mobile phones or leaving the presentation. Put the first names or full names of the participants onto a white board or into a presentation slide to build a connection.

Large Audiences

A trade show presentation is quite different. Your audience can be large, from diverse backgrounds and the number of participants can vary from a handful to an auditorium full of people. Most people don’t know each other, but have congregated at this event for the purpose of an industry topic.

Participants watching Foote Francis' Joomla web application presentation
Foote Francis presents web technology

Set the audience’s expectations. You will need to quickly qualify and identify yourself (in 30 seconds or less) and spend no more than an additional 60 to 90 seconds describing the purpose of your presentation – this should be the solution your product, service or presentation is providing (not the details of the sections of your presentation). See the summary and link to Anatomy of a Pitch by Gavin McMahon.

At a trade show, you run the risk of participants coming and going, so you will need to return to a common slide, like a table of contents that shows where you are in your presentation.

Human Issues Among All Audiences

  • Time of day and bodily needs
  • Temperature
  • Vision
  • Hearing

Live presentations are the most subject to human issues, but many of the same human (usability) factors apply to webinars and online self-service presentations.

A few quick tips and ideas – plan around the human clock – the most complex topics are best covered in the morning hours around 10 am to 11:30 am and hungry people lose concentration so it’s better to take lunch early than to run late into lunch time. A cooler room is better for learning in most cases though you may need to encourage your participants to bring a sweater if the room is too cool. If the room is uncomfortable, plan more frequent breaks and encourage people to stand up and walk around – even if they do not need anything.

Participants do not need to disclose issues hearing or vision, but you should ask at the beginning of the presentation if people can comfortably hear or see your presentation. Make every effort to adjust lighting and sound in a live presentation.

Check your presentation for readability by printing or previewing the presentation in  black and white – this can be a modestly close simulation to the vision lost to age, colour blindness or cataracts. Be sure that you use high-contracts, easy to read fonts. The fonts should have thick lines and enough space between letters and words that the back of the room or the sight impaired can make out the words.

Author’s note: Why Focus on Presentations?

Right now I am working with a client who is transitioning from managing remote mining camps into running a specialised products business. We’ve been working together on presentations and these are the topics we are covering in our preparation.

What tips would you like to share? Add your comments below, email or call me.