Having your audience profile is essential to adapt your presentation to who they are and what they’re expecting from you. It is not always that easy, though. The audience can be too heterogeneous, or you could not have that much information about them. So many variables can make your job harder.
There will never be an ideal answer. Yet, you can ask some questions to the organizers of your talk. You should have at least an idea of who the audience is. This way, you’ll be able to prepare for a couple of different scenarios you may face.
1. What’s the purpose and goal of the presentation?
What exactly are they expecting to get from your talk? Why do they want you to talk? What do they hope to gain from this presentation? How can you meet (or even exceed) their expectations?
When you’re preparing a presentation, you need a goal. You need to know what your audience is supposed to know or do at the end. When you establish your own goals without consulting, you take a significant risk. Imagine attending a presentation or talk, and it has nothing to do with what you were expecting. It would be a disappointment.
Addressing their expectations avoids that disappointment. It also helps you grab their attention from the start.
2. What’s their knowledge on the topic?
This question is directly related to the previous one. What is the audience’s knowledge on the topic? What do they need to know? Why (the purpose)?
You don’t want to give them superficial information they already know and bore them. On the other hand, you also don’t want to complicate things. You don’t want to talk about concepts they don’t know anything about. It will make them feel overwhelmed and confused.
To fully adapt your presentation, you need to know what they already know – and what they want/need to know more.
3. What is their native language?
This is something that your contact should tell you anyway. If you can speak their language (even if it is not perfect), you should. You can give your presentation in another language and emphasize the key points in theirs as well.
If you can’t talk their language at all, make sure to use a lot of visuals – pictures, and graphics. Use something universal and easy to understand, no matter the language. Use more pauses and try to say the key points in many different ways to make sure they actually understand you.
4. What do they know about you?
Does your audience know who you are, what you do, or why you speak in that meeting? This is important to establish the image and preconceived notions they have about you.
Knowing the information they have about you is helpful to perceive what they may expect from you and fulfill their expectations. According to what they know about you, they are ready for a particular type of person. Of course, it rarely is who you really are, but you can find some common ground to work from.
5. How’s their decision-making process?
When you’re talking to an audience, you are trying to influence them. It can be a persuasive speech, like a sales speech, or merely sharing information about a topic. You want to persuade them of the integrity and importance of your message. To do so, you need to know what they value.
How do they make a decision? What kind of information do they value the most? What are their priorities? You must adapt these questions to the topic and goal of the presentation. It is vital to understand their process of making decisions.
Of course, this is not as obvious as it seems in a text because audiences are not all the same. They are mixed and have different interests, goals, and cultures. Nonetheless, the more you know about them, the best you can prepare.
6. What are the contention points with you or your message?
This might not be a question, but a couple of them. First, you should know in advance the points that you have in disagreement with the audience. They will probably be present in the Q&A, and you should address them during your presentation.
This shouldn’t be done to tell them why they are wrong, and you are right. Instead, it is a way of showing interest in their opinions and showing them you had prepared. Knowing that there are opinions that differ from yours shows that you care. Knowing their opinion or point of view shows that you respect them.
If you are not comfortable enough to ask a direct question about potential conflicts, explore a bit what they know about your topic. What do they think about it? What’s their point of view on the matter?
Ultimately, it will be vital for you to anticipate their questions (and prepare answers) to face the Q&A successfully.
Having a rough demographic of your audience is of great help when it is time to prepare your speech. It is helpful to protect sensibilities, to choose analogies that mean something to them, to know their interests, etc.
This way, you may want to know the age range of your audience, their gender, religion or ethnic background, their level of education, their job, and the place they are career concerning.
Prepare for the presentation, preparing for the audience
The audience is the main actor in presentations of any kind. You need to understand them and know them as much as you can, because they are your goal.
Asking these questions will help you to effectively prepare, not a general presentation, but the one for those specific people who will be in front of you. Prepare your topic according to those people and you’ll give a great presentation.