Have you ever listened to a presentation only to come out shaking your head and asking yourself “What was that all about?”

Or maybe you went and half way through began to wonder what kind of an idiot the speaker thought you were “This is just so basic – who on earth does he think he’s talking to?”

And then of course, there’s the “I am not sure if we are even speaking the same language” reaction.

Okay hands up! I expect by now that you are all sitting there waving your hands in the air! Unfortunately these are common reactions, and the reason is that the speaker really had no idea who was in the audience. And, I suspect, did not care. Alas, this is not an attitude that we can adopt with our business communications.

If you were going to chair a meeting, you would spend some time in preparation, and surely some time in considering who would be attending. After all, the people who are attending the meeting will have a huge impact on how the meeting will progress. Will there be those you just know are going to question everything? How about the cheerful Charlie who will make sure that half the meeting will be wasted in exchanging news and gossip? And naturally there will those who just don’t want to be there. In your preparation you should be taking into account all these idiosyncrasies and plan ahead for your response.

But what happens when we have to give a business presentation – we take careful thought about what we are going to say, and how we are going to say it. We pour over our creative ideas and bring forth a virtual Oscar-winning presentation. And yet when we give it, it falls flat. It fails to convince. In fact it is a flop! What went wrong?

Well, there are a number of things which can go wrong, and if we know what they are, we can plan ahead to avoid the problems that they can cause.

Firstly, do we really know the purpose of our presentation – what is it supposed to achieve. There are three main reasons presentations are given; to inform our audience, to persuade our audience or to entertain our audience. Our presentation may be focused just on one reason, as in informing our sales reps of new products. Or to persuade new clients of the benefits we can provide them. Rarely do we focus a whole business presentation on entertaining our listeners, although it may have a role somewhere!

Some times we can focus on more than one purpose, we might need to inform a new prospect of what we can offer, and persuade them to engage our services or purchase our goods. A really good presenter can do both these, and at the same time entertain their listeners as well. Good one if you can pull it off!!

However, once you understand clearly what your purpose is, you then need to know exactly who you will be addressing. You need to know your audience – and no you don’t need to know them personally! But you do need to know who they are within their organisation, what their responsibilities are. You should also consider what their experience is, and what they might already know about your products or services.

Other aspects which might influence you could be how long have these people been with the company? What generation type? How open to new ideas, to change?

If we consider these questions when we are preparing our presentation we can make sure that we modify the way we give the information to fit these listeners.

So we can choose information that is most likely to interest and therefore gain this audience’s attention. And we can decide on a technique that could reflect their interests. Should we stick to good ol’ PowerPoint – or would a demonstration model be most effective with this company’s executive?

Would presenting the innovative creative ideas up front really resonate with them, or should we go straight to cost analysis? Is there a part of our information which may create opposition or negative reactions? If so, how are we going to present this to them?

Without this mental analysis of our expected audience, we will have no way to predict their likely reaction. In that case we may unwittingly create the very opposite reaction from that which we hoped for. We will have failed to achieve our purpose.

So if you wish to avoid seeing people leaving your presentation shaking their heads in confusion, you need to find out what it’s all about first.

Michele @ Trischel

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