Film and modern culture tell us that the one on stage is the star. The most important person in the room. The one in the spotlights. Well yes, he/she probably is the most important in the perception of everyone else. Otherwise there would be no audience, right? However, I am pretty sure that when all attention is directed towards you, you won’t be thinking “I am so good, I am such a rock star”. I know I wasn’t thinking that. On the other hand, I wasn’t thinking “I am so gonna suck at this” either.
I was thinking about the audience. I had been thinking about my audience all day. All week, if it was an important presentation. I was thinking:
- Who were they?
- What would excite them, arouse them intellectually?
- What would bore them to death ?
- How can I reach their sense of humor (if any)?
One of the things I always loved about my presentations, whether they have been for a contest, for a business presentation, for a meeting at the office or for school was researching my audience. You can do this one week or one day before the presentation. You can do it in the morning before. It doesn’t matter, as long as you do take time to know your audience.
Who are the people you’re talking to ? Are they colleagues ? Are they investors ? Are they bosses ? Are they academia ?
Ask yourself as many questions as possible about these people and try to find the answers.
- Google them if possible (and if they are less than 10, otherwise it gets boring)
- Talk to them in the coffee break before your presentation (if you can work up the nerve)
- Listen to their speeches (if any) and to their comments on others’ presentations.
- If all else fails, use your imagination.
It is reasonable to assume that the people you’re talking to do not have the same background as you do. They do not use the same terms, notions. They do not have the same interests and they do not respond to the same queue.
Give any speech as if the audience would be in the spotlights because ultimately their opinion will bring your success or failure. Or think about it this way: it you shift your attention towards them instead of yourself, there’s instantly far less pressure.
Keep in mind that it’s not only about what you have to bring to the world, it’s also about how you make them enjoy receiving it.