Publications & Products
Volume 5, Issue 7


Adapt Presentations to Listeners

The best presentations are tailored to the audience, write communications experts.

The Harvard Business Review staff recently shared an excerpt from the book Presentations. The staff write that leaders should ask several questions to better understand their audience and learn how to cater their message to its needs. Some include:

  • How big will the group be? Who will be absent? "Are you expecting 5, 15 or 50 people?" the authors ask. "The size of the audience affects the type of presentation you'll give and the resources you'll need. Keep track of which people can't attend. Absent stakeholders are stakeholders nonetheless; you'll want to follow up with them afterward."
  • What roles do your audience members perform in your organization? To whom are they accountable? "Having a basic understanding of their responsibilities will help you engage them," they write. "Consider why your message matters to them and how you can make their lives easier. You'll highlight those things when you present."
  • What does the audience already know? What do people need to know? "Don't state the obvious, but give people enough background information to understand what you're saying and how it affects them," the authors write.
  • What are people likely to assume? Which of those assumptions are correct and which are incorrect? "Anticipating your audience's assumptions helps you make better choices about how to present your content," they write. "If there's a misperception you need to correct, this might be the time to do it—gently. For example, if your audience believes that the new system you're proposing will take too much time and effort to learn, clearly explain how you'll help ease the transition with training sessions and extra technical support."
  • How well does the audience know you? "If you don't already have strong relationships with the people in the room, you'll need to establish a rapport with them early on," the authors write. "For instance, you might open with an amusing anecdote about your own struggles with the old system you'd like to replace. Show that you share the group's frustrations with the way things are."


This article is from the Advancement Weekly, Aug. 17, 2015 issue.

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