Who is Your Audience pic

Public speaking is very similar to negotiation in that most of the work happens before you get to the table (see my favorite book on the subject, 3-D Negotiation). In negotiation, it’s about researching your counterparts and their interests, creating coalitions around your ideas, and designing a deal that is win-win for all parties. In public speaking, it’s about researching your audience, practicing your delivery, and designing a presentation that meets both their needs and your goals.


The number one step in preparing a presentation is to know your audience. Intrinsically we know this is important, but in practice we don’t always know how to do it.


Here are some ways to research your audience:


  1. Describe your audience in detail. Who will be attending the meeting or presentation? Are they clients, colleagues, or industry partners? Who among them is your target audience, the most important person to reach? How will they feel about your presentation? What other potential audiences could see your presentation if posted online? The more you know about the people in the room, the better prepared you will be to write the speech.
  2. Identify the language of your audience. Do your audience members all come from the same organization? Will they understand your industry jargon or acronyms? Do they represent the same background and nationality? Answering these questions before you write the speech helps you craft your message in a language that your audience will easily understand. Make it easy for people to listen to you.
  3. Consult potential audience members. Reach out to potential audience members in advance to determine the challenges facing this audience which might arise during the presentation. Are you presenting right after a major announcement of company-wide layoffs? What will be the mood of the audience? Ask potential audience members about why the subject of your presentation is so important to them; their answers can provide a goldmine of persuasive material to use during your presentation.
  4. Understand barriers to action. Every speech is an opportunity to change people’s beliefs and behaviors, but that takes an understanding of their barriers to action. Why haven’t they taken action before: Because of budget? Inner-office politics? Cultural constraints? Understanding your audience’s barriers helps you find a call to action for your speech that is realistic.
  5. Research your topic. Being competent in your subject also means keeping up to date on its latest news. What happened this week in your field? What are the current controversies? The more you know your subject, the more confident you will feel during the presentation.
  6. Understand the context. Who else is speaking at the conference or meeting? Do they agree or disagree with your point of view? Looking at the other speakers will help you determine how to frame your message in a unique way. Find out who will introduce you; they may be in a position to enhance your credibility.
  7. Consult the organizer of the meeting or conference. Always check with the meeting planner or conference organizer to understand how much time you have to speak. Will there be time for Q+A? What kind of audiovisuals will be available to you? When will the room be available for set-up? Knowing this information in advance is crucial and will ensure that you don’t have to make last minute changes to your presentation to fit the context.
  8. Meet people right before the presentation. Get to the venue in advance to meet some of your audience members and other speakers. Introduce yourself and be curious about the people in the room. You can begin to create the energy that will fuel your presentation before you even cross the stage. When you do get up to speak, you’ll then be speaking to an audience of colleagues instead of strangers.


Being prepared isn’t just about knowing your subject. It’s about connecting with your audience in a meaningful, purposeful way. It doesn’t happen spontaneously; it happens with preparation and effort. Getting to know your audience can make or break the success of your presentation.