Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mindful Presenting, Part I: Audience Awareness

On January 8th, the Bren Communications Center hosted a 4 hour workshop on developing and delivering compelling presentations. We used Nancy Duarte's slide:ology as our text. This post is focused on part I of the workshop: Audience Awareness.
Presenter: Dr. Monica Bulger

When preparing for presentations, you need to think about your audience. Who are they? What is their background? What are their interests? One aspect of your presentation is to convince your audience of your big idea or main points, and in order to do that effectively, you need to have some idea of who they are.

Analyze your audience needs (adapted from slide:ology):
  • What are they like?
  • Why are they here?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • How can you solve their problems?
  • What do you want them to do?
  • How can you best reach them?
  • How are you going to connect?

You should also consider YOUR role in information delivery:

  • What unique expertise and experience do you contribute?
  • What are you desired outcomes?
  • How can you connect with your audience?

Learn to empathize with your audience to both meet their needs and accomplish your desired outcomes. For example, imagine that Sarah Palin is presenting to an audience of Mafia dons. At first glance, it may seem that they don't have much in common, but she could probably relate to them on firearms, strong family ties and political influence!

The main point is that audiences are very different (for example, the audience for your group project defense will be different from that of your public presentation). If you think about celebrity personas, such as Martha Stewart, Steve Jobs, or Jon Stewart, they are all very flexible; they have an interesting enough persona to address different audience needs.

Consider your various group project audiences. We asked participants in our workshop to describe the audience for your public presentations in one word and received the following responses: receptive, supportive, sophisticated, varied (in knowledge & background).

So if the audience has a diverse knowledge level, who do you target? You may think you should aim for the "average" level, but since this is a school presentation, we recommend targeting just a few degrees down from the most knowledgeable person in the room.

Your family and friends will love you no matter what, and honestly, might not pay that much attention to the details--they don't necessarily have a burning interest in the topic; their interest is you. The next "knowledge tier" is your fellow students. The one above that is professors and community members who are interested in what you have to say and who will ask questions: that's who you want to target. The goal is to target the highest tier of your audience, when possible, without losing the rest of them.

(Above, Bren students brainstorm about their audience needs.)

When we asked our students to describe your GP defense audience, one student said "time." Yes, your professors are busy and pressed for time, but they want to be there for you, so think about what you can do to make it worth their while. Also keep in mind that the professors are there to ask questions that will help you improve your reports--they're not there to work against you!

If you know who your defense respondents are going to be, talk to people being advised by them, find out what they like. Better yet, find their Ph.D. students and ask them to come to a practice presentation and play the role of their mentors.

In addition to thinking about your audience needs, you should also consider YOUR role in delivering information to that audience. Spend five minutes thinking about what you have to bring to a presentation--it will help you be confident. As a start, you probably know your topic backwards and forwards!

  • Who am I?
  • How can I relate to my audience?
  • What is my desired result?

Another important point to consider: do you understand your topic yet? because if you don't understand it, your audience certainly won't. Be sure to find your message. Steve Jobs often refers to what he calls the "napkin test:" can you write down and explain your big idea in the pace of a cocktail napkin?

If you're not sure what your big idea is, ask yourself what do you want the audience to know before they leave the room? Then, make sure you foreground that one idea in your presentation. In your GP reports, there are going to be a LOT of ideas, but you can't get them all into your presentation: remember that you only have 15-20 minutes to get your big idea across.

The final point we'd like you to consider in terms of relating to your audience is presentation vs. story: talking at someone vs. talking to them. Consider your presentation a dialogue (which it actually will be during the Q&A portion). Use the formal presentation part to prepare your audience for the dialogue/Q&A: connect with your audience, use eye contact, empathize with them.

Stories can also allow for or enhance audience understanding; don't just do a "data dump." Think of your presentation as a story. What are the elements of a good story? Conflict, Structure, Resolution. Think back to your "big idea," how do you tell it as a story? What are the main elements you want to communicate?

After you think you've mastered "audience awareness," ask another group (preferably one that knows nothing about your topic) to come and view a practice presentation. Get some feedback from them as your new audience!

Additional Resources

And check back soon for our other Mindful Presenting posts. Good luck!

--Audrey Tresham

1 comment:

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