Know Your Audience!

As a mentor of educators, I continue to watch instructors struggle with their presentation skills. While their content may be great, their success varies from presentation-to-presentation. Why?

If your content and presentation remains the same each time you 'perform' it, why do the results vary? The answer is simple: the audience. The audience is the one variable you have absolutely no control over. Think about this: You create a presentation (even if it's a lame PowerPoint) and rehearse it several times until you've perfected the delivery, but still bomb on stage. Why? - The audience. You spent so much time thinking, developing, and refining your presentation that you failed to consider the people watching you.

Knowing your audience is a key strategy when developing a presentation / lecture. This is done everyday in the entertainment industry. Scripts and stories are not just reviewed for their content, but also for audience appeal. If the story can't be 'sold' to an audience, it never reaches production. We are not so fortunate in the field of education! Some of our content must be taught and is dry and boring at baseline, making it difficult for some educators to create a presentation that can capture an audience.

Here are some items to keep in mind when creating your presentation:

#1 - Location

Where is the presentation taking place? In a classroom? An auditorium? A convention center? This will help you develop content appropriate for that location. A large room, like a convention center, may inhibit certain presentation strategies. For instance, you would not do a facilitated discussion in a convention center because the size of the room limits your ability to have meaningful discussion among the participants. On the opposite end, a small classroom is an ideal location for facilitated discussion. The small environment creates an atmosphere where everyone can be heard and contribute to the discussion.

#2 - Who

Who are the participants? Students? Professionals? Both? This is one of the most important considerations when developing a presentation. If you are providing primary instruction to a group of students, your approach will differ than if you were presenting to a group of seasoned professionals. With students, you will need to explain items in finer detail and perhaps allow additional time for questions. However, with seasoned professionals, you may only need to summarize certain topics. If you mix-up these two strategies (e.g. summarize to students, provide long explanations to professionals), you're going to lose your audience! The students will get frustrated with the lack of material and the professionals will become bored or even feel insulted for the in-depth explanations.

#3 - Why

Why are they there? We call this 'motivation.' What drew them to your presentation? Are they attending a conference for professional development? Is your presentation a required lecture? The answers associated with these questions should guide your approach when creating your presentation. A presentation that requires a great deal of audience participation may not work with an audience who is forced to be there (e.g. work requirement). Whereas, an audience filled with people who are genuinely excited about your content may be the perfect audience to explore some interactive teaching strategies.

Creating a presentation can be challenging. Knowing information about your audience can help you be more successful. When the presentation 'fits' the audience, the participants are more likely to pay attention, interact, and ask questions. In the end, it's our job to reach the student / participant. By knowing 'who' they are and 'why' they came, we have the ability to connect with our audience in a positive way.

About the Author:

Alan Heckman has been involved in healthcare for over 20 years and is the owner of EMS Education Solutions, LLC, an education company that provides primary and continuing education services to healthcare professionals. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education, specializing in Communications, and a Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies. His clinical experience includes Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, Cardiothoracic Surgery, and Critical Care. In addition, he is a Nationally Registered Paramedic and continues to train EMS professionals of a regular basis. Alan is an Associate Professor in the Physician Assistant Program at DeSales University and continues to practice Critical Care medicine. Academically, Alan has published in multiple textbooks, including textbooks of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, and has presented at local, state, and national conferences.



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