Facing an Audience? Perform a Background Check—On Yourself!
An accomplished medical researcher told me about a presentation she had recently made. “I gave too much background and had to rush when explaining the clinical implications.” “Who was the audience?” I asked. The answer: “A group of clinicians.”
It’s natural for a researcher, project manager, or technical specialist to structure a presentation chronologically. It’s natural to expect the background information to lend weight to the finale—the conclusion or recommendation. It’s natural, that is, if you’re thinking from a speaker’s perspective.
From an audience’s perspective, this “natural” approach can be boring and unproductive. Chances are you’ve had the experience—as an audience member—of feeling your eyes glaze over when a presenter droned on about background or technical details that seemed irrelevant to you.
The audience comes for the finale. They are interested in background details only to the point that the details clarify or support the recommendation or results. Provide a taste of the finale at the start, even give the punch line, and you grab the audience’s attention and provide a framework to put the details that follow into perspective.
Next time you face an audience, remember that it’s your job to think like the audience and to structure your presentation accordingly. Perform a background check—on yourself.