October 5, 2010

The Audience

The audience is on your side. They want you to succeed. They are investing their time and are hoping that your presentation will be informative, educational and entertaining.

1. Communicate

Your task is to communicate effectively with the audience and to use techniques that ensure they will remember your key messages and learn from your presentation.

2. Remembering

Research has shown that the audience will remember 3 to 5 things from a 1 hour presentation. We all feel that we have many more important ideas that we want the audience to remember. However, we can’t change human behaviour. So, focus on the 3 ideas that you want your audience to remember and make your presentation support these 3 things.

3. Stories

People remember and learn better when information is presented in story form. After all, that is how we all started to learn – our parents read us stories. We all know that it is important not to lie. We learned this from the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Instead of presenting your information in static, bullet point form, use stories to support and reinforce your main ideas. Here is an example. We are trying to sell a company our software product that automates manual processes. A typical slide would list the technical features of the software product, as shown here.
A better way to present the case for our software is to tell a story from a customer that is using the software. Use business language to describe the problem, the solution and the benefits of the solution. Then state that your software helped this customer achieve those benefits.

4. Distractions

The audience is easily distracted, especially if you are speaking to an anonymous audience at a conference. Do not hand out a printed version of your presentation, because this is one of the distractions. You know, because we all do it, that the audience will be flipping through your presentation and reading ahead. This means that the audience is not listening to you.

5. Cues

Watch for cues from the audience. If they are restless, then maybe your presentation is too slow. If they appear puzzled, then your presentation is not getting through to them.

6. Annoyances

Surveys have asked audiences which presentation techniques are annoying. Of course, annoying presentations detract from remembering and learning. The number 1, 2 and 4 top audience annoyances can be summarized as follows: “too much text”. Too much text on a slide, small text size and reading the text on the slide should be avoided at all costs.