Presentations or Training: “Know” Your Audience First

Whether we are going to make a presentation to colleagues or potential clients, preparing for a training course, about to enter into a negotiation or start an international meeting, one thing that they all have in common is that there is going to be an audience. One of the key elements in achieving successful communication is having as much information as possible about the audience BEFORE the activity.

We recommend that before any activity – whatever if may be – the trainer / presenter contact the organizer or “owner” of it (the secretary of the MD, the Training Manager, etc.) to obtain the following relevant information. If possible, via face-to-face communication as it is normally easier to obtain the information this way. If it is impossible, by phone. Email tends to depersonalize the exchange of information thereby making it more difficult to obtain!

Whatever method is used, the explicit emphasis must be on obtaining the information so that the ATTENDEES needs, wants and lacks are covered in the most appropriate and effective manner thereby ensuring an efficient use of THEIR time.

Information required:

Who are they?

- What are the names & positions of the attendees?:

- This knowledge makes it easier to personalize the communication.

- It helps to identify “Powers”, “Influences” & “Hot Bodies”. (see below)

- Enables us to identify possible Needs, Wants and Lacks of each attendee and/or the group as a whole. (See below)

How many people will be attending the activity?

- A small group: 3 – 9 people = more participation expected and more difficult to control.

- A medium-sized group: 10 – 20 people = less participation expected & easier to control.

- A big group: 20 + people = less active participation during event, the audience expect a Q&A session at the and are normally easier to control due to cultural norms for this type of activity.

Information about this area ensures that:

- the correct quantity of support documents are prepared.

- The logistics are appropriate for the group.

- The speaker / trainer is psychologically prepared to work with this size group.

Are they all from the same organization or from different ones?

Knowledge about this are helps to identify:

- potential areas of conflict / agreement among attendees and the presenter / trainer..

- shared or different knowledge.

Unity: Their level of knowledge?

This information helps us decide on the appropriate starting point of our communication for THIS audience. As C.P. Snow once said” Never overestimate your audience’s knowledge, never underestimate their intelligence!”:

- How much do the audience know about the topic?

- Nothing?

- A lot?

- Somewhere in between the two extremes?

- Would two presentations be more effective than one?

- Should you provide discussion documents to all attendees BEFORE the activity so that everyone has the same basic knowledge?


This information helps us to ensure that the norms and conventions governing political correctness can be properly observed. In addition, it helps to ensure that the material being dealt with is appropriate in terms of content (complexity, structure, method of delivery, etc) for THIS audience.

- Ages of the participants?

- Gender?

- Cultural level?

- Education? etc.


- What is their Motivation for attending this activity?

- Intrinsic? – from self interest: they want to attend the event.

- Extrinsic? – Having been told to attend the event by a boss.

This information often provides an indicator of the potential degree of involvement and participation of the attendees.

Environment: Room set up?

- Natural light?

- A room size appropriate for the number of attendees and the activities planned?

- Are the necessary materials available: flipcharts, pens, paper, projector, screen, etc?

- Are there any physical barriers such as columns in the room which could impede communication?

- Is there easy entry and exit?

- Is the furniture appropriate?

- Is the room set up as required?


Are the Needs, Wants and Lacks of the audience & the speaker covered:

- Water, hard sweets, beverages, knowledge about breaks, lunch, etc?

Time available.

- Are there any cultural norms about punctuality.

- Do the attendees tend to be punctual?

- How much time has been allocated for the activity?

Effects: Should the communication be:

- Threatening?

- Remove worries & fears?

We believe that if the objective of the communication is to convince, the first step should be to create a certain level of fear or uncertainty in the mind of the audience which the communicator then removes though his detailed proposal.

Additional possible sources of information about the attendees.

- Social Networks:

- LinkedIn,

- Facebook,

- Twitter, etc.

- Organization’s web page

The more information the communicator has about the audience members, the more precise and elegant they can be during the event.

Additional points to Consider:

In every organization, no matter its size, you will always find three basic groups of people:

- “Hierarchical Powers” - Senior management: President, Country Manager, General Manager, etc.

- “Social Powers” - The workmate that everyone follows and “obeys” (the joker, the “rebel”, etc).

- “Influences” – Those who influence the powers directly or indirectly (friends, family, colleagues, specialist, etc)

“Hot bodies” – Those who have no power or involvement in any decision-making process.

It is of immense help if the audience members can be categorized into the appropriate category before the activity begins so that appropriate attention can be paid to each one.

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