What do audiences expect?

When it comes to audience expectations for presentations to which they are exposed, I suspect they would like to receive information that meets their need to understand. They want value from that information, the why and the how of it. Why is this important to us? How will this help us?

They want a presenter who understands them — someone who not only understands who they are on the outside, but who has insight into their beliefs, attitudes and opinions. They want the information for their presentation to be tailored to their specific needs.

Audiences want presenters to get to the point as soon as possible. They want to know how they should apply the information (informative presentation) or take action on it (persuasive presentation) early in the process. Knowing the outcome up front helps them relate the information to their personal cognitive framework. That’s when communication works.

Audiences do not attend a presentation thinking: “I hope the slides are entertaining” or “I wonder which seductive font they’ll use.” If written information is needed to move ideas along, smart audiences want to see it in advance.

In the future, my hope is that audiences will raise their expectations to the level of a structured conversation. They will want the speaker to be well prepared. They will want visuals only where needed. They will want their handouts in advance or after the presentation.

But they will also want the opportunity to probe and ask questions. During precious “face time,” they will want information put into perspective, not have data driven down their throats.

Always a Call to Action

During a two-day presentation skills workshop I was conducting last week, a participant asked: “Should there always be a call to action in our presentations?”

In a business presentation, the answer is almost always “yes.”

As a general statement, there are three types of speeches or presentations: traditional, informative and persuasive.

A traditional speech or presentation would be something like an eulogy at a funeral, an acceptance speech for an award or a 25-year service awards gala for a corporation. Generally, you don’t need to have a call to action for a traditional presentation, although I have occasionally seen it to be very effective.

In an informative speech or presentation, you are informing the audience about something that should be relevant to who they are as human beings. It is important that you tell them why your information is relevant, and clearly state how you hope they will apply this information to their job, to their personal life, or to their professional life.

A persuasive presentation encourages the audience to take fairly immediate and direct action — vote for a candidate, sign a petition, or even get feedback from users by a specific date to ensure that a new software package is truly meeting the needs of the organization.

As those who have been through my workshops know, I believe the call to action in an informative or persuasive presentation should be stated up front and again at the end in clear, concise terms. In a modern business presentation, if you don’t want the audience to apply what you’re saying, or you don’t want them to take some form of action as a result, I have a critical question to ask:

Why are you there?

Always a Call to Action

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