Dilbert, Audience Analysis and Presentation Success

Competence is one of the keys to career and life success that I discuss in several of my books: Straight Talk for Success; Your Success GPS; and 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success.  If you want to succeed you need to develop four basic, but important competencies: 1) creating positive personal impact; 2) becoming a consistently high performer; 3) dynamic communication skills; and 4) becoming interpersonally competent.

If you want to become a dynamic communicator, you need to develop three basic, but very important, communication skills: 1) conversation, 2) writing, and 3) presenting.

Yesterday I did a post about a Dilbert cartoon that made a point about conversation skills.  Today, I’d like to use another Dilbert cartoon to make a point about presentation skills…

In the first panel, the boss says, “Dilbert is our next presenter.” 

Standing in front of a screen with a PowerPoint slide projected on it Dilbert says, “Thanks for coming to my presentation.  I put in a lot of time creating it.  I hope you’ll like it and find it informative.  First, I’m going to run a little slide show and do a humorous rap to accompany it.  Then you’ll all get a chance to participate.  I’ll give you funny hats and you’ll put together some skits.  And then we’ll have fireworks in the atrium of our building.”

The last panel shows the members of the audience.  One of them says, “Can you cut it short, we allowed only three minutes for your talk.”

I know this sounds absurd, but one of my coaching clients experienced a similar situation.  His bosses’ boss asked him to prepare a presentation on what his department does.  This talk was going to be for the Executive Committee of his company – the 12 most senior people in the entire company.

He saw this as a huge opportunity – for himself and his department.  The presentation was a month in the future.  He spent most of that month working on the talk, developing about 70 nice looking slides with animation and a brief video.  There were no funny hats and fireworks, but the presentation had a lot of very cool graphics.  He practiced again and again making sure that he had it down pat.  The talk lasted about 90 minutes.

The day before he was supposed to do the talk, his bosses’ boss asked him to come to his office to do a run through of the talk to make sure that things would go smoothly the next day.  He, his boss and the big boss went into a conference room.  He hooked up his computer to the projector and began previewing his carefully thought out talk.  After about seven minutes, the big boss said, “How many more slides do you have?”

My client said, “I’m just getting started, I have about 70 slides total.”

The big boss said, “That’s way too many.  They only want a 10 minute overview of what your department does.  You need to revise your talk and cut down the number of slides.”

My client spent the rest of the day and most of the evening revising his talk, cutting out most of the interesting graphics.  He was really frustrated. 

When he and I next got together, he was really frustrated.  He explained the situation to me and complained about the big boss.  “He never told me that all they wanted was a 10 minute overview of what we do.  I wasted a lot of time putting together this presentation.”

I said, “Did you ever ask him how long the talk should be?”

He said, “No.  I just assumed that the Executive Committee would want a very thorough understanding of what our department does.”

And that is the crux of the problem.  My client missed a really important step in developing a powerful presentation.  He did no audience analysis.  He assumed his audience would be as interested in his topic as he is.  In this case, he failed to realize that the senior people in the company wanted a quick look at his department – not an in depth review of everything they do and how they do it.  If he had taken the time to ask the big boss a few simple questions, he wouldn’t have wasted his time developing an in depth presentation. 

Analyzing your audience is an important first step in developing any presentation.  Here are a few simple questions you should ask and answer before you begin developing any presentation…

• Who is my audience for this presentation?
• Why are they there? 
• What do they want or need to get from my talk?
• How much do they know about my topic? 
• Are they familiar with any jargon I might use? 
• What is there general attitude towards me and the information I’ll be communicating?

These questions will help you develop and deliver the kind of presentation that will meet your audience’s needs and help you shine as a presenter.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people are competent communicators.  Presentation skills — along with conversation and writing skills — is one of the communication skills you have to master if you want to become a personal and professional success.  Audience analysis is the first step in developing a compelling presentation.  You have to understand your audience’s wants and needs before you can develop a great talk.  Take a few minutes to think about your audience before you begin developing any presentation.  If you do, you’ll be more likely to deliver a great talk that will get you noticed in a positive way.

That’s my take on audience analysis and presentation success.  What’s yours?  Please take a few minutes to leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always, thanks for reading.


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