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Get Your Audience Involved

Connecting with Your Audience

Great presentations are those in which the audience members feel included. Your job as a presenter is to focus on your audience and address their needs in a manner that is comfortable for you and appeals to them. This article explores methods for analyzing your audience, adapting your presentations accordingly, and increasing audience participation.

Audience Analysis

The first and possibly pivotal step to any presentation is analyzing your audience. Gather as much information as possible about your potential listeners. The more you can learn about them, the better you can prepare for and manage your presentation.

Some of the factors to consider are: the number of people attending, the gender ratio; the age range; the informational needs; the occupations of the people in the audience; their educational and experiential backgrounds; the audience's purpose for attending; their expectations and values; their format preferences; the participants' interests and abilities; the socioeconomic status; what specific organizations, cultural or ethnic groups are represented; the time parameters; and the listeners attitudes about you, your profession, and your topic.

Regardless of the size of the group, it is important to determine how they feel about your topic and you. If possible, pre-survey your audience to discover their preferred learning styles and formats, find out if they have attended presentations similar to yours, ascertain how the participants were selected to attend the presentation (did they volunteer or was attendance required), and ask if any of the participants have special learning needs such as visual, hearing, or mobility difficulties.

Unless your presentation is booked well in advance, it is difficult to do a thorough audience analysis. Most of the time you are only given cursory information like the numbers, gender ratio and a general overview of the participants' occupations. You have to do a lot of your audience analysis at the time of your presentation which is why it is wise to know your material well enough to alter the format and to have a variety of activities that will accomplish similar results. Pay attention to the verbal and non-verbal cues given by the group. If people are looking bored or talking to each other, then it is time for you to alter your presentation Another helpful hint for getting to know the audience's needs and styles is to arrive early and meet the audience members.

Presentation Adaptation

After you've done your research, you need to determine how you will make appropriate adaptations. You may want to modify the physical space, create visual aids, alter your behavioral style, (voice, body language, appearance, and dress) or restructure your presentation design in terms of organization, content, language and use of examples. Consider how you will make adaptations using the following components:

Situational Format reflects your design parameters. For example, does the presentation take place in a meeting format, a small group, a large group, or one-on-one? Is this done over the radio, telephone, in person, or on video? Situational format is the "how" your presentation is structured.

When presenting to a group of five or less, the activities need to be individual oriented it is difficult to split the audience into small groups because they already are a small group. Discussions are often limited due to the small number of participants. If you have a medium-sized group (20-50) you can do a wide variety of interactive activities and sharing. But if the group is large (75 or more) you might consider splitting the audience into smaller groups of three to five people for activities and creating discussion dyads (pairing people together) so everyone has an opportunity to talk. Internal State includes your attitudes, emotions, clarity of purpose, confidence, needs, expectations, degree/type of self-talk and perceptions. For instance, you aren't feeling well (fighting a cold or simply having a bad day), you still need to show up for your presentation. You would probably want to make it informal and relaxed. Perhaps you could arrange the chairs in a circle and include extra activities so that the focus isn't always directed toward you.

Cultural Requirements is the "where" it takes place. Definite norms for success exist within the cultural format. For instance, you may be speaking to a small group, and the parameters for success depend on the particular place and/or the specific audience. Small group meetings can take place in a corporate setting, an educational environment, a health care milieu, or in a social atmosphere. The audience could consist of your peers, potential clients/employers, or member of a specific target market. Each of these groups has distinct and often unspoken norms governing the ways in which communication is expected to occur.

You may need to alter your language, attire and presentation style. For instance, when talking with physicians, use medical terminology or you will lose credibility. Yet if your presentation is to a group of laypeople and you toss around words like gastrocnemius (instead of calf) the audience would most likely be lost and feel alienated.

The presentation location can necessitate adaptations in the design of your presentation and the delivery. If your talk is done at a restaurant, you need to be a bit more informal. The audio-visual capabilities are usually limited to items such as handouts, a flip chart, and small displays. You probably can not rearrange the tables and the participants will be limited in their movement. So, most of your activities should require very little physical movement (e.g., discussions, visualizations, chair stretches, self-massage, and dyad exercises where participants turn to the person next to them). If your presentation was to the same group but held in a lecture hall, they would expect more formality and a greater use of audio-visuals such as posters, transparencies, or slides.

Change the title of your presentation to make it more appealing to different groups. You may slightly alter the content and delivery. For example, your presentation is on stretching. Title it "Stretches You Can Do at Your Desk" for business professionals, "Stretches You Can Do While Watching TV" for sedentary groups, or "Stretching with Nature" for the hiking club.

External Behaviors are the observable components such as your appearance, vocal style, body language, dress, what is said and what is not said, the amounts and type of interaction, and effective management of the physical environment. Let's say your presentation is to a group of abuse survivors. Promote safety with subdued attire, vocabulary, movements, and gestures.

Audience Involvement

Create a friendly atmosphere so the group feels comfortable with you and build trust by showing enthusiasm and conviction. The following guidelines help build rapport which increases audience satisfaction and interaction:

People like to feel as though they are being talked with directly even if they are part of a large group. Some of the techniques for involving your audience are: have the audience participate in an activity such as stretching; lead a visualization exercise; ask questions and have the group raise their hands or stand up in response (e.g., "Do you experience stress at work?" "Do you encounter stress at home?" "How many of you get headaches?" "Who here has ever received a professional massage?" "Who has received a professional massage in the last year?"); make specific reference to a participant or the group (e.g., "Since everyone here today either suffers from fibromyalgia or is close to someone who does, you know how debilitating pain can be."); request feedback; facilitate a question and answer format; and give a demonstration.

The more experiential the activity, the better. When talking about touch therapies, show the group how to do some simple techniques on themselves or each other. If you are including information on aromatherapy, bring some essential oils for the audience to smell.

The activities need not be elaborate to be fun and effective. For instance, demonstrate stretches that the audience can do while sitting in their chairs. (See sidebar for a list of audience involvement activities.) The key is to be comfortable in leading a variety of activities, so you can get your point across in ways that your audience enjoys.

Audience Involvement Activities

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Last updated: April 25, 2011
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