Knowing Your Clients Before Starting a Presentation

Published on
4,320 Points
Last Modified:
Rick Enrico
CEO and Founder of SlideGenius Inc. that regularly publishes articles on the SlideGenius Blog. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
A good understanding of the audience can set your presentation apart. Here are some tips to get to know your listeners before giving a talk.
Once in a while, a good speaker comes along and blows you away. It may be his charisma that captivates you—you can’t exactly be sure. All you know is that you feel at ease around him. You listen to his ideas willingly and take his suggestions unreservedly.  
Truth be told, it’s now hard to come across an exceptional speaker who has that effect on people. Today, you can pay a speaker to share his knowledge but no amount of cash can endear him to the audience.
Preparing a speech isn’t easy, and delivering one is not any easier. It takes a lot of emotional energy to stand in front of a crowd and talk. The audience may react in countless ways, and the only way you can prepare for the outcome is to be three steps ahead. That includes understanding the audience and anticipating their expectations.
Why Go Out of Your Way?

Is it necessary to know the people you’re addressing in your talk? The answer is yes, yet sometimes, presenters either forget to do their research or just skip it altogether. Knowing a thing or two about the audience can aid you in delivering a presentation that leaves a mark. It’s especially important for two main reasons.

1. To establish rapport with the audience 
As clichéd as it sounds, forging a connection with your audience is crucial to creating a common ground where ideas can be openly shared and received. More than anything, your goal in the first few seconds of your talk is to win the audience’s confidence and pique their interest. Make them want to hear the rest of your speech.
Establishing rapport is also your ticket to recognition. If the audience loves you, you’ll know by the looks on their faces when you end the presentation.
2. To meet the audience’s expectations 

Every presentation has a goal—be it to inform, entertain, or persuade. You can only achieve that goal if you know your audience well. Don’t go onstage thinking that your job is merely to talk. Your job is to communicate. That means speaking in a manner that the audience understands and presenting the message in a palpable way.
What Information Do You Need?

Experts_SupportingImages.pngUnderstanding your audience doesn’t mean knowing them on a personal level. It’s unlikely that being aware of what your audience had for breakfast could help you straighten out your presentation. You only need to learn four things about them.
1. Demographics
How big is your audience? What age group do they belong to? What’s the dominant gender? If there are important people present, who are they and where are they seated?
Knowing all these things can make your presentation audience-centric. You can construct an opening remark that strikes home with your spectators.
2. Extent of knowledge  

You can’t hold your audience’s attention for long if you talk over their heads and make them feel inferior. It also works the other way—oversimplifying your presentation will bore your audience if they’re up to speed. To be engaging onstage, do your research beforehand. Find out how much your audience knows.
3. Mood and disposition  

To gauge how your listeners will receive the message, you need to learn what values, attitudes, and beliefs they uphold. Plan and set your message carefully to avoid offending anyone. Before you drop a provocative comment, make sure that your listeners are receptive to unconventional ideas.
4. General expectations 

The success of your presentation will depend largely on how well you meet your audience’s expectations. There are many factors at play regarding how your listeners form their early biases. Without a doubt, they expect to be given what is promised to them, so only promise what you can deliver. If possible, exceed their expectations in unexpected ways.
How Can You Find What You’re Looking For?

Experts_SupportingImages-03.pngThere are three ways to gather information about your audience.
1. Prior research 

If you’re attending a formal speaking event that’s held regularly, you’ll most likely find some basic information about your audience through the Internet. Also, try to get hold of some documents from the venue.
2. Personal interactions  

What better way to understand your audience than to interact with them prior the event? If possible, greet the guests as they enter the room and have a little chat with them. Try to speak with the event organizers as well. They should know a thing or two about the attendees.
3. Cues during the speech 

If your research didn’t yield much and you didn’t get to talk with the audience members before the presentation, you’d still be able to sense the general aura in the room while delivering your speech. Comedian Milton Berle developed a strategy to suit his act with the audience’s mood. He’d open his shows by telling five different types of one-liner jokes and assess the audience’s reactions. He would then proceed with the routine that struck a chord with the audience in that particular night.
Getting to know your audience takes confidence, curiosity, and perseverance. Armed with the right information, you can deliver a knockout presentation that your audience will remember long after you’ve stepped down the stage.

Atkins, Richard. “Know Your Audience.” The Ladders. n.d. www.theladders.com/career-advice/know-your-audience
Barber, Felicity H. “The #1 Thing You Must Do Before Any Speech or Presentation.” The Muse. n.d. www.themuse.com/advice/the-1-thing-you-must-do-before-any-speech-or-presentation
Braithwaite, Lisa. “Public Speaking: Know Your Audience.” Business Know-How. n.d. www.businessknowhow.com/growth/speaking-audience.htm
Kurtus, Ron. “Know Your Audience Before Speaking to a Group.” School for Champions. August 1, 2005. www.school-for-champions.com/speaking/know_your_audience.htm#.WDUQXuZ96Uk
Schwertly, Scott. “5 Ways to Get to Know Your Audience.” Ethos 3. October 12, 2009. www.ethos3.com/2009/10/5-ways-to-get-to-know-your-audience
Starak, Yaro. “The 5 Golden Rules of Expectation Management and Why You Can’t Ignore Them.” Entrepreneurs-Journey. n.d. www.entrepreneurs-journey.com/8750/expectation-management
“Know Your Audience.” Changing Minds. n.d. changingminds.org/techniques/speaking/preparing_presentation/know_audience.htm
“The Benefits of Understanding Your Audience.” Boundless. n.d. www.boundless.com/communications/textbooks/boundless-communications-textbook/analyzing-the-audience-7/the-importance-of-audience-analysis-37/the-benefits-of-understanding-your-audience-161-8007
Author:Rick Enrico
Ask questions about what you read
If you have a question about something within an article, you can receive help directly from the article author. Experts Exchange article authors are available to answer questions and further the discussion.
Get 7 days free