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A Presentation Expert’s Guide to Knowing the Audience

PowerPoint has become the main weapon of choice for creating presentations. As of 2013, it’s estimated that more than 120 million people use it both for business and educational purposes worldwide.

It’s for this reason that, as a presentation expert, your first hurdle is to deliver an effective pitch. Getting your clients’ approval may be tricky for some.

After all, clients have the power to accept or reject your proposal. To get a positive result, you have to know your audience before you even begin to draft a presentation for them.

Never Underestimate Your Client’s Expectations

Effective speakers know what their audiences expect from them. With this information in hand, they can adjust their presentation strategies accordingly.

A classic example is one of Dr. Robert Schuller’s speeches in his book, Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do! (1983). Just before he appeared onstage, Schuller was informed that the people he was about to speak to were farmers, some of whom were on the verge of losing their businesses.

What these people needed was someone who could give solid encouragement, not just a simple pat on the back and a hollow assurance that the situation would get better. Using this new information, Schuller was quickly able to revise his speech. He related his similar struggles with his family’s own farm, as well as how he succeeded.

The end result? He was able to establish a common ground with them. By sharing his story, he was able to inspire others by leaving them with the impression that if he pulled it off, so could they.

Now, consider this: what would have happened if he continued with his original plan? Would the result be the same? Probably not.

This principle holds true for PowerPoint presentations. Each client has expectations that need to be fulfilled whenever you show them a new proposal or a simple report. Being able to correctly identify what these are can give you an edge when planning your slides’ content and designs.

Use the Right Tactics to Make a Difference

A relevant example from brand communication coach Carmine Gallo’s book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, was when he was helping a CEO prepare for an analyst presentation.

In this scenario, Gallo suggested that the CEO simply state the relevance of his company’s technological services to the audience, as opposed to his originally lengthy, technical explanation.

What that person did was ask his audience to hold their cellphones out. Then, he elaborated on how his company, from behind the scenes, made those devices more efficient for its users.

Let’s think on this for a moment: his audience may have been mostly tech-savvy people.

Some could probably keep up with his explanations, but at the end of the day, they still need to know why that speaker’s topic matters to them. With this information in mind, this person was able to keep his presentation simple and relevant, with an engaging delivery about what his company can offer for them.

Use Information to Your Advantage

Once you have a thorough understanding of your audience, you can even use this information to challenge their beliefs.

Gallo recounted such a tactic in his book wherein Steve Jobs was trying to recruit then-PepsiCo President John Sculley in 1983. In that instance, Sculley was captivated with how Apple worked.

However, joining that company meant relocating his family a considerable distance and getting a lower salary. While initially dejected, Jobs then issued this challenge: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”

Sculley was already impressed with Apple, but since he was focused on what it would cost him, he was unable to leave PepsiCo.

What Jobs did in the end was to challenge his current situation and offer a chance to change that. If you know enough about your audience to give them a relevant but challenging idea, this can be your best bet to keep them interested.

Conclusion

While not everyone can have a similar story or benefit to share, there is still one important thing you should know: information about your audience matters.

Knowing as much as you can about them can only benefit your presentation by helping you make your message as specific as possible, as you’ve seen with Schuller’s and Gallo’s examples.

Once you have this information, every slide’s design, every line of text, even the delivery must match or exceed what they expect from you. Otherwise, you could run the risk of presenting a handful of facts that seem disconnected, or an unclear proposal that seems too questionable for a decent investment.

Otherwise, you could run the risk of presenting a handful of facts that seem disconnected, or an unclear proposal that seems too questionable for a decent investment.

References

Infographic: PowerPoint Software Usage and Market Share.” PowerPoint Info. Accessed April 28, 2015.
Schuller, R. Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do. New York: Inspirational Press, 1983.
Gallo, Carmine. The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010.

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