As a savvy presenter, you find out as much as possible about your audience members before you address them. What do they already know about the topic? What do they need to know? What do they want to know? Will they be receptive or reluctant to hear what you have to say? You plan accordingly.
But almost nothing calls for more planning than a mixed audience—both technical and nontechnical decision makers, beginners and advanced learners, or groups of amateurs peppered with professionals.
Consider the following tips when you present to such diverse groups.
1) Engage the advanced without insulting the less knowledgeable.
Make it your goal to aim for the higher end of the spectrum. That is, plan content to interest the seasoned audience members. Their engagement and participation will interest the less knowledgeable because those audience members have even more to learn.
The beginners don’t yet know what they don’t know; therefore, almost all topics and discussion interests them. They are like the proverbial sponge soaking up all that transpires. Yet, take care that you don’t insult beginners and amateurs by locking them out of the presentation with jargon and references to other resources, tools, and processes with which they’re unfamiliar. So how do you do that? Next tip …
2) Provide shortcuts.
When you need to deliver complex information that will only confuse and lose the less experienced in a group, consider providing that more technical content in a truncated fashion: Can you provide it on a handout? Mobile download? Reference to a website link? Does the technical process, specification, or explanation really need “air” time?
3) Prefer clarity to brevity.
Brevity is good; clarity is better. Never sacrifice a few words or sentences in order to be brief. Slide screen space, paper, and air are cheap. Misunderstandings that lead to errors can be expensive. If you need to define a term, do so. If you need to add a detail, add it. If you need to use the whole phrase rather than the acronym, use it.
4) Use—don’t abuse—their experience.
Forcing advanced learners to sit through an elementary explanation wastes their time and causes them to disengage quickly. Instead, acknowledge and engage the more seasoned people in your group by giving them opportunity to share their expertise with the less experienced.
When you make a point, call on them to share a case study or ask them to elaborate on how they’ve applied this principle, strategy, or truth in their own work. In a teaching session, pair the advanced with the less skilled learners to pass on additional teaching points and tips to extend the learning.
Handling a widely diverse audience can be a challenge. But with forethought and creativity, the outcome can be stimulating for all.
About the Author:
Dianna Booher works with organizations to increase their productivity and effectiveness through better communication: writing skills, presentation skills, interpersonal communication, and client communication. An expert in executive communication and a keynote speaker, she is the author of 46 books, published in 23 languages. For more information, visit www.booher.com