Step 1: Context
Step 1: Context
Get to know the audience.
What you need: A confirmed speaking engagement.
Pen & paper, or your computer.
The 9 Questions
Figure out audience's expectations
Set up rehearsals
Before you can prepare a great presentation, you have to understand the context: Both your audience’s hopes, dreams & fears, and their expectations of you. If you don’t understand your audience and their expectations, you’re sabotaging your future self and will struggle to figure out what to say. Skipping this crucial first step will cause you several hours’ worth of anxiety and wasted work down the line. Starting with the audience in mind will make everything down the stream easier.
Once you’re conscious of the expectations of you, you can decide whether to follow them or not. Let’s say you’re giving a keynote at a large conference about personal growth. The audience expects a heartfelt, confident performance with growth stories and some lessons for a good life. Yet you feel unconfident because you don’t feel like you got what it takes. Once you understand what the expectations are, you can choose to push aside your insecurities, and just give them what they want. After all, it’s not about you. It’s about them. You’re there to give them what they want.
On the contrary, let’s say you’re giving a company presentation in a small-ish professional event and the audience expects to get a dull powerpoint slideshow with little to take home. This time, you decide to smash those expectations. Perhaps you scrap your powerpoint entirely, and share a heartfelt story related to your topic instead. Instead of standing up, you might sit on a chair and make yourself more relatable. Or you might turn it into an active workshop, having the audience make groups, activities, etc.
You can choose how you react to the audience’s expectations. You just have to know what the expectations are.
Sometimes you already know the audience and their expectations. An example of this would be giving a status update on your project to your colleagues. You work with your colleagues every day so you know them well, and you know they expect you to just give a simple presentation on where you’re at with the project.
If you already know the audience and their expectations, just quickly browse through the 9 Questions exercise. In case there’s a question you don’t have answers to, dig deeper until you do. I find that no matter how well I thought I knew my audience, I’ve still usually overlooked something.
Here’s a practical example you can imitate. I remember when I was preparing for a speech to 1000 people in Mexico. The timing was tight - I had only received an invitation to speak 5 days before the event - and you bet I was stressed out about it. I wanted to give a good speech, but there was one major hurdle on the way: I didn’t know the audience well enough. Their hopes, dreams, fears, sources of pride, and what they were expecting. Because of this, I had a hard time preparing my speech. So I called the organizer and asked him some questions along the following lines:
Who am I talking to? What do they do, where are they from, how old are they, what motivates them to come to the event?
What are they expecting of my speech?
What problems are they struggling to solve right now, personal or otherwise?
What do they care about?
What are they proud of?
What are they afraid of?
What kind of a message do you think would land?
After the conversation, I understood the audience well enough to start working on my content.
In case you’re speaking to an audience you don’t know, do at least one of these:
- Call the organizer.
- Call someone who will be attending.
- Go where your audience is. This can be e.g. online forums or physical events.
It’s much easier than it might sound like. A 15-minute phone call will save you hours of work downstream.