Are you one of the public speaking JAMs?

We have heard a great deal about the ‘Just About Managing’ (JAM) class from our politicians lately and this got me to thinking how many … Read More

We have heard a great deal about the ‘Just About Managing’ (JAM) class from our politicians lately and this got me to thinking how many people regard themselves in this category when it comes to making a presentation in public.


Over the course of the next few articles we will highlight some of the key areas where most people struggle in delivering a solid presentation and give some tips about how to improve. One of the most frequent errors made, and yet one of the easiest rectified, is not doing your homework on the audience. Knowing who your audience are and what outcome you want from your presentation can be critical, but sadly, this is often ignored. In running numerous Speak With Impact training courses over the years I am struck by how often this area is given little consideration or even overlooked completely. Do so at your peril!

I am reminded about a classic example of this a number of years ago when working overseas for a large, blue chip, electrical power organisation. Some small, but critical, equipment necessary to restore power quickly in the event of a generating station ‘blackout’ had been malfunctioning under test conditions and senior management were under pressure from the Government to urgently rectify the situation.

An expert in this field was duly engaged and spent three months on a thorough and detailed investigation as to the root causes of the problem. On completion of the study he was required to make a number of presentations within the power company outlining his findings and recommendations. One such presentation was to a very large audience of technical and supervisory staff. The expert had clearly spent a great deal of time on his material, messages and visual aids because the event was an outstanding success and he was applauded for some considerable time after finishing by a very enthusiastic audience.

However, the solutions to overcome the existing problems involved a considerable financial investment which could only be approved by Board members. The expert was invited to address the Board with a presentation which would ultimately seek confirmation to proceed with the investment for implementation. With oozing confidence he delivered the same presentation but this time, sadly, it did not go down well with this disparate audience and no decision was taken at the meeting. It took weeks of individual lobbying of Board members before agreement was finally reached.

So what was it that saw one presentation go so well and yet the other, by the same individual, go so badly? The answer of course was the audience. In the first presentation most people attending were familiar with the technicalities of power plant problems and were extremely receptive to technical jargon, complex diagrams and lengthy explanations of investigation analysis and findings. Unfortunately, in the second presentation, the majority of the Board members did not have this technical experience or insight into the power system (this is normally the case with Boards in most organisations), were soon overwhelmed by the amount of complex detail directed at them, detached themselves from the remainder of the presentation and were therefore unable to make the investment decision.

Sadly most presentations are prepared without understanding the audience composition and the same presentation, once finalised, is rolled out time and again. If the Speak With Impact checklist on ‘knowing your audience’ is followed you can be confident of delivering a targeted and successful presentation.

So before making your next presentation think seriously about who it is aimed at, why are your audience there, what you want to achieve from the presentation and what is the makeup of your audience. If you prepare your presentation from the beginning with the audience in mind, rather than as an afterthought, you stand a much better chance of overall success.

Bill Brown

Speak With Impact


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