Public Speaking: Know Your Audience

by Lisa Braithwaite

Use these pointers to get to know your audience better.

Preparation for your presentation is just as important as delivering the presentation itself. One thing you can do to prepare yourself is to learn about your audience and venue in advance. Here are a couple of pointers:


Pointer #1: Know how many people will be there and view the layout of the room
This may seem obvious, but there are big differences between a small, intimate presentation for 20 people and a formal speech to a group of 200.

Visit the location, if possible, to see how the room will be laid out, and to make any requests for where you'd like the equipment and screen (if using) to be placed.

This also gives you an idea of how energetic and physical you will have to be, how much you will project your voice or if you will be using a microphone, what kind of visuals you will need to use, and other physical aspects of the presentation.

Make sure to have enough handouts for the whole audience.


Pointer #2: Determine how familiar the audience is with your topic
Have you ever gone to a training or workshop where the speaker makes the assumption that everyone in the room is a blank slate, basically starting from scratch? This can be really insulting to adult learners, who have a lifetime of experience and knowledge to draw from and often have contributions to make to the workshop.

Speak to the organizer of the event to find out if your audience is at a beginner, intermediate or advanced level of knowledge about your topic. The organizer will know more about the audience if this is a corporate-type event where everyone is an employee of the organization.

If this is something the organizer is unable to tell you, then it's your responsibility to find out at the beginning of your presentation. Ask questions; for example, "how many people are familiar with this topic/my organization?" You might even want to ask what their specific interests are regarding this topic, right from the beginning.

Finding out what your audience already knows will greatly improve your rapport and "connection" with the group.

Pointer #3: Get additional information
Anything else you can find out about your audience will help you prepare: age, demographics, background. Think about how you can best serve your audience - what is the benefit to them of coming to your presentation?

The more you know about your audience, the better you can meet their needs as a presenter.

Lisa Braithwaite is a public speaking and presentation skills coach based in Santa Barbara, California. She worked in the nonprofit sector for 16 years developing and implementing programs, curricula, and training materials for local organizations. Visit her web site at to sign up for her free newsletter.
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