One of the most challenging assignments as a speaker is making a presentation to a group of people with varying levels of knowledge, different perspectives or mixed expectations. When crafting and delivering your message, it’s your job to focus on the needs of your audience, and that can be a bit tricky when the needs of each listener are not the same.
How do you begin? By finding the common ground between your listeners. At first glance, this may seem impossible, but I assure you there is always something they have in common. No matter how different people’s perspectives may appear, you can find points in common if you make the effort. It takes work, but the payoff is great when the presentation resonates with the entire audience.
Try these three steps to find the common ground between your listeners:
Step into their shoes
Start by finding out as much as you can about the people you will be addressing. Ask your contact to put you in touch with a few of the people who will be attending.
For example, you may be giving a presentation that affects different departments, such as marketing, production and legal. Gaining insight about each group can be quite telling. Ask questions such as:
- What are your experiences and/or level of knowledge with your subject?
- What questions do you have, or want to have answered?
- What are your concerns?
- What would make this presentation a good use of your time?
Try to see the issues from their perspectives and identify the overlaps. Look for what your potential listeners have in common, in terms of their questions, concerns, and what they would find valuable. Finding this “common ground” will allow you to craft a core message that will speak to your entire audience.
If it’s impossible to talk with stakeholders in advance, arrive early for your presentation and circulate with attendees before the meeting begins. Again, ask about their issues and concerns, as well as their expectations for your presentation. Make sure you know your material well enough that you can make adjustments based on their feedback.
Identify false assumptions
Sometimes your audience member’s interests or concerns are at odds because of misconceptions or inaccurate information. When you are speaking to stakeholders, you may uncover some of these false assumptions. Listen carefully to what people are saying and not saying — try to understand the back story. If you can clear up misconceptions, it can help audience members to see how their various interests align.
For example, let’s say a convenience store is moving into a new neighborhood, and you are asked to address a town hall meeting as a representative of the company. If you’ve been able to identify people’s questions and issues, you can begin to address those in your talk. You can give relevant information in a way that lets them know their concerns were heard and understood.
It’s also important to make sure you aren’t making false assumptions. Proper preparation is the key to avoiding this problem. Do your research and make sure your facts are correct.
Connect with all your listeners
Once you know what your audience members have in common, you can craft your message in a way that makes each listener feel that you “get” him or her. Use stories or metaphors that everyone can relate to. Speak in a conversational tone and in a common language. For instance, a business leader talking about an upcoming product launch with a marketing group would not use “legalize” in his presentation.
When you connect with all listeners, you have done your job and brought then to a point of shared understanding. They “get” it because you have found the common ground!
How have you successfully connected with mixed audiences? What challenges have you faced? Share your experience!
Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.