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Audience Analysis: How to Hit the Mark

Before you start designing your presentation, ask yourself these six questions about what your audience needs from you.

What comes to mind when you think of the perfect presentation? Your first instinct might be to picture brilliant delivery, eye-catching visuals, and eloquent explanations of complex topics – and you’re right! All these factors are crucial to creating an effective presentation because they have one thing in common: they’re designed to connect to your specific audience.

Before you can craft the perfect visual aid or delivery style, you need to understand what your audience wants and needs out of your presentation. This is easy enough when you already know your audience well – for instance, when you’re giving a routine status update or kickoff presentation. But what about those times when your presentation has higher stakes, or your audience is bigger? Then you’ll need to conduct a thorough audience analysis.

We’ve developed a set of six basic questions you can use to tailor your presentation to your audience’s wants and needs. Check them out below.

Question 1: Who are they?

This question references your audience’s basic demographic and job information. How are they categorized by age, gender, race, and other demographic factors? What’s their job title and how long have they been in the role? What kinds of decisions are they making? What degree of influence do they have in their organization?Who do they report to? By starting with this question, you’ll have a better sense of the audience’s background, which will help you answer the next five audience analysis questions.

Question 2: Why are they here?

Your audience’s motivations play a key role in shaping your message. Why are they attending your presentation? What do they plan to do with your message? Will they make a decision based on your presentation, or will they report it to someone else and make a recommendation based on what you say? Answering this question not only tells you what your audience expects from your presentation, but it will also ensure your suggestions or solutions are applicable and realistic for your audience.

Question 3: What do they know?

How much prior knowledge does your audience have about your subject matter? How much detail and historical information do they need to understand your topic? What specialized language should you avoid given the audience’s current knowledge? These factors impact the amount of time you spend on background and explanation, as well as how technical and detailed your presentation needs to be. After all, you wouldn’t present the results of a clinical trial to a group of doctors the same way you’d present to a group of sales professionals – they have different levels of domain knowledge.

Question 4: What do they want?

Understanding what’s in it for your audience may be the most important part of audience analysis – if you don’t understand what matters most to them, you can’t successfully frame your message in a way that resonates with them. Search for common ground that you and your audience can agree upon and relate to. For instance, if you’re presenting an idea to senior management on how to gain a competitive advantage using a new but risky technology, and you know your audience is risk-averse, you need to frame your message in a way that emphasizes the risk management aspect of your solution. To gauge what drives your audience, answer the following questions: What are their core concerns (financial, organizational, psychological, etc.)? Why are they coming to your presentation? What current problems are affecting them?

Question 5: What do they believe?

Your audience’s beliefs and attitudes alert you to whether they’re predisposed to agree with you or if they’re likely to disagree and need extra convincing. A person presenting on employee engagement strategies would, for example, frame their message differently to a group that does not believe in annual reviews compared to one that that values a more traditional approach to performance management. To understand your audience’s beliefs, ask yourself: What cultural factors should you consider? To what degree will your audience agree with your point of view? Why might they resist your message?

Question 6: Do they trust you?

Your audience won’t take your message to heart if they don’t find you credible. Ask yourself what your audience knows about you, your company, and your message or product. Do they believe you are a credible authority on your presentation topic? If the audience isn’t familiar with your credentials as a subject matter expert or member of your organization, you should include them, humbly, in your introduction.

Final Thoughts

Audience analysis is the foundation of your presentation. The better you understand your audience, the easier it is to create a message that directly addresses their concerns and offers actionable, accessible solutions. However, audience analysis is only one key part of presentation development. If you want to learn how to incorporate your analysis into your message crafting, visual design, delivery, and more, check out The Power of Presentation, Tommy Re's guidebook for all your business presentation needs.

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