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The Questions You Need to Ask to Really Know Your Audience

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The ability to connect with your audience is imperative when presenting. Here, Emma has compiled a list of questions to keep in mind for your next speaking engagement, so you can make sure your message doesn’t fall on the deaf ears of an audience you knew nothing about. 

With over taxed schedules we require a good reason to delay the deadlines and attend a presentation. Why do we turn up at all? The primary reason is to discover more in person than we’d get from reading the report. If you’re the speaker, you need to make your presentation interesting and informative in a personal way – and that starts with understanding your audience.

One of the worst presentations I witnessed was when the CEO of a global fashion brand presented to a room of executives.

It failed on every level:

  • Brand
  • Content
  • Insights
  • Credibility

This speaker would have been better with zero slides than the ones that drowned him. He literally choked: gag reflex / reached for the water / voice of death.

We know when our presentation is tanking; we can see it in the audience. Unfortunately, we may not know how to prevent it – so here’s some insights into the three worst audience reactions and why.


1) Bored


Tired, flat, disengaged, flipping their phone, no understanding of the material.

  1. The speaker stands at the front of a room reading a monologue from their speaker notes
  2. They don’t share anything new
  3. They make complex and confusing statements
  4. There’s no clear message or call to action


The audience leaves wondering why they’d bothered, or conversely, pleased to have had the time to clean up some emails.


2) Frustrated


Initially interested but lost inspiration.

  1. Visuals and insight might be working but the speaker missed the audience interaction.
  2. Visuals chosen don’t support or reinforce the content.
  3. Visuals such as charts and graphs have too much information / are confusing.


The audience is wondering why they couldn’t have read the report or Googled the topic on the evening commute.


3) Confused


Entertained, laughing / crying, participating and enjoying it – but in the same way as watching a train wreck. Ultimately they’re thinking, ‘This is not what I signed up for’.

  1. This speaker is entertaining; so many stories / questions from the audience.
  2. Hang on – there’s no structure; it feels like the presenter is making it up on the spot.


Audience members reckon the speaker should do stand-up, but feel they haven’t actually learned anything, thus leave a little confused.

Here’s what you want your audience to be:


4) Engaged

There’s excitement in the air! The audience is alert, wanting more, interested and interacting. They believe in the speaker.

The presentation is:

  1. Relevant
  2. Contains a clear message
  3. Each slide retains clarity
  4. Memorable
  5. Engaging

Creating this type of audience interaction begins well before you get in the room; it’s a result of thorough planning and preparation. To win your audience, you first need to know your audience.


Who’s in your audience?

There are two types of people in the audience – those who want to be there and those who don’t.

The keen beans are interested – they love you and want to know more about your story, ideas and plan to change the world (or a small part of it).

Then there’s those who are part of a conference or sent from the office. They’re not initially engaged and don’t see the value straight up.

Your role is to convert and convince both. It’s imperative you understand who’s in the room and why. Everything you do and say is done with your audience in mind.


Consider these questions when structuring your next presentation

1) Who is my audience?

  • Why are they here?
  • What is their gender / age / education?
  • What’s the power dynamic / hierarchy? Who is the decision maker?
  • What resistance might I find?

2) What is interesting to them?

3) Are they there to learn? Or do I want them to do something?

4) What do I want them to THINK, FEEL or DO?

5) What is my ‘Call to Action’? What do I want people to do or say after my presentation?


Then incorporate these insights

1) Create and maintain audience participation online and offline; share stories.

2) Ensure clear structure and focus of relevant information.

3) Provide new information.

4) Consider content and design: use visual language that is easy to understand and compliments your message.

5) Use emotions to ignite their senses and increase retention.

Remember, the most important person in the room is not actually you! It’s worth taking the time to analyse your audience; a bad presentation can kill your career – but a great one can catapult it.

Emma Bannister is passionate about presenting big, bold and beautiful ideas. She is the founder and CEO of Presentation Studio, APAC's largest presentation communication agency, and author of the book Visual Thinking: How to transform the way you think, communicate and influence with presentations.

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