How to Present to Different Types of Audiences
If you have ever had to deliver a PowerPoint presentation in front of a group of people, you’ll know the importance of catering to your audience.
This can be difficult to do when you have no way of predicting how your audience will respond to you, so we’ve narrowed down the types of audiences you may come across and how you can prepare for each one.
Knowing how to approach different audiences is an important skill to develop as you plan your presentation. When you come across an unsympathetic group, being confident, charismatic, and knowledgeable is not always enough.
Knowing how to adapt to any type of audience will allow you to plan your presentation strategically so that no matter who you are presenting to, your delivery is powerful and effective.
Groups of people generally fit into four types of audiences, each with their own set of presentation tips—bear these in mind for the next time you present so you can keep your audience engaged.
Presentation tips for friendly audiences
When you prepare for a presentation, the hope is that your audience will be a friendly one.
This type of audience will be agreeable and receptive to your presentation. Whether they agree with your content or not, they will remain friendly, conversational, and engaged.
Don’t get too comfortable
It is easy to get too comfortable in front of a friendly audience and soften your delivery. When you become too relaxed, you increase your chances of leaving out key details, which negatively affects the overall value you project through the presentation.
Just because your audience is friendly does not mean they are already sold on your ideas. Be careful not to soften the delivery of what would otherwise be a strong presentation.
When a friendly audience shows interest in your presentation, use this to your advantage. Don’t downplay the importance of your message—instead leverage their interest in a way that encourages them to further invest in your mission and take action.
Presentation tips for apathetic audiences
An apathetic audience shows no interest in what you’re presenting. They feel no connection, they show no enthusiasm or concern, and they are indifferent to what you have to say.
Get to know your audience
The first step to working with an apathetic audience is understanding why they are uninterested. Have you connected the material to something they are involved in? Are you talking about things that are relevant to them?
You may be presenting with the wrong approach. Certain presentation styles may not be effective for every audience—this is why it is important to get to know who you’re presenting to beforehand.
Consider who will be attending your presentation and how you can tailor it to meet their needs. For instance, if you’re giving a sales pitch to the president of a company, clearly draw the connection between what you are selling and how it will benefit them. This will increase your chances of holding the audience’s attention, which will help you feel more confident as you deliver your presentation.
Give your audience time
For some audiences, you simply need to power through your presentation until they reach a point of understanding. Even when your presentation is well thought-out and detailed, it may just take the audience some time to buy in to what you are trying to pitch.
Use enticing visuals
Strong visuals are an effective way to win over an apathetic audience. Images, videos, and other visual elements can go a long way in creating a presentation that is stimulating and appealing. Take a look at some of our previous work for a few examples.
A well-designed PowerPoint presentation increases your level of professionalism and makes you more authoritative in the eyes of the audience. It is important to engage your audience as much as possible when dealing with apathetic listeners, so telling a great story and using powerful visuals is a great place to start. Take a look at our article on audience engagement for more ideas.
Presentation tips for uninformed audiences
An uninformed audience is one that does not share the same set of knowledge as the presenter. Being able to educate an audience before proposing an idea or solution can lead to a very enjoyable presentation for you and your audience. When it is clear that you have new and valuable information to share, they will be interested and engaged right from the opening lines.
The goal with many PowerPoint presentations is to lay everything out in a way that is easy to understand. This is especially true when presenting to an uninformed audience—you are the expert in the room for as long as you are on the stage. That expertise should be evident in the content and delivery of your presentation so that your audience feels they are learning something new and valuable.
Provide as much information as necessary
It’s important to cover as much information as you can in your presentation, without making too many assumptions about what your audience knows—some people will have no prior knowledge, and others may have only a vague familiarity. If you are preparing to present to an uninformed audience, provide as much information as is necessary to get everyone on the same page before diving into further detail.
Incorporate visuals into your speech
If the length of your presentation feels too long—for example, if you find yourself needing to add more of the backstory to provide more context—using visuals is a good way to move things along. It will save you some talking time and your audience will appreciate the break from listening or reading for extended periods of time.
By including everything that your audience will need to know in your presentation, you should have no problem showing how knowledgeable you are. It’s a good way to showcase your expertise and establish yourself as a thought leader to the audience before diving into the actionable parts of the presentation.
Use anecdotes for additional context
Don’t hesitate to talk about your personal experience. Anecdotes will help clarify how the information can be applied in a real-life context.
After your audience is informed, you’ll be able to tell them the reason you are there and why what you are pitching is so important. Make sure they have all of the information they need to take the next steps with you.
Presentation tips for hostile audiences
A hostile audience is one that actively resists your efforts to get them on your side. They may argue or interrupt, and the tension between you and them can easily escalate if it is not managed effectively.
There will be many different reasons behind why an audience is contentious, but audiences often become hostile when a presenter ignores one or more of the following considerations:
- The audience wants to be listened to, not lectured.
- The audience wants something new and different.
- The audience wants to be respected.
- The audience feels like this is not a valuable use of their time.
Many presenters find themselves getting overwhelmed when dealing with a hostile audience because they neglect one or more of these key considerations. There are a few things you can do to win over a hostile audience.
Respect your audience
Taking into account the traits mentioned above, be sure to:
- Listen to your audience, their opinions, and their concerns.
- Give the audience some new information that directly relates to them.
- Respect your audience, their work, and their viewpoint.
- Respect your audience’s time and spend it wisely.
Provide real-life context for your presentation
Managing a hostile audience often means being patient and proactive. Provide as much context as possible so that your audience can see how your presentation can be applied to real-life situations. An audience’s hostility can often stem from the fact that they are not seeing how your presentation benefits or makes a difference in their work or personal lives. The more you understand your audience, the better you will be at tailoring your presentation to their needs.
Be objective and respectful
Keep your presentation as objective as possible to leave out any ambiguity. Use clear statistics and data to show that you have done your research. Numbers don’t lie!
When conflicts arise, face them head on and respectfully acknowledge your audience’s concerns. Be sure to explore both the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. Be confident in your own point of view but be willing to compromise and listen to what areas your audience disagrees with.
Finally, don’t exaggerate or undersell a point. No audience wants to feel like they are being misled. Be objective and provide research and evidence to support the points you want to make.
An important part of presenting to a hostile audience is to have them respect you. It is a fine balance between showing the audience how knowledgeable you are as a professional and respecting the knowledge that they already have. You never want to make your audience feel as though you are speaking down to them. Most people will appreciate a presenter who simply delivers a high-quality presentation that offers valuable food for thought.
How to identify what type of audience you have
Now that you know the four different types of audiences, you will be able to quickly pick up on who your audience is in the first few minutes of your presentation.
As a presenter, you will always hope for an uninformed or friendly audience, but it is important to prepare for an apathetic or hostile one.
Before you begin your presentation, do some research on your audience to learn all you can about them.
6 questions to learn more about your audience
By asking yourself a few questions and going over them with a few other people, you will get a better idea of what your audience will be like and how you can prepare your presentation. This will increase your chances of winning them over when the time comes.
How do they like to receive information?
- Would they like a printed document to follow along with?
- What room setup might work best—boardroom, classroom, U-shaped, etc.?
- Is your presentation accessible and available in different formats? (Tip: Read our ultimate guide to accessible presentation design to learn about this.)
What will be the biggest obstacle?
- What points may be controversial? Is there anything you can do to minimize tension between you and your audience?
- How can you effectively get your message across? What are your key points to discuss?
How does your audience fit into your plan?
- What do you want from your audience and how can you get it?
- What is the ideal outcome from the presentation?
- What information do you want your audience to take away from your presentation?
What problems does your audience have that you can solve?
- How does your presentation affect your audience?
- Outline the process, the outcome, and where you fit in to the solution.
How can you show your audience you understand?
- Every company has a fear or a problem—how can you show them you understand, and that you empathize with them?
- Beyond stating that you understand, what actionable steps can you take to ensure your empathy is received and makes a tangible difference to your audience?
What type of people are they?
- What does an average day look like for your audience?
- What role do they have in their organization? Are they data analysts providing information, or are they key decision makers?
Define a clear call to action
The success of a presentation largely depends on a strong call to action (CTA) at the end.
You can deliver an excellent presentation, but if you don’t leave your audience with an actionable next step, it might not have the outcome you want.
A great CTA should come right before the end of a presentation—it’s what you want your audience to do or think about once the presentation has ended. Even a friendly audience needs to know how you need them to proceed when they walk out of your presentation.
Here are some general guidelines to follow when crafting your CTA.
Be clear and direct
Don’t leave your audience trying to guess what it is you want them to do. Make it clear what the next steps are and how they can be achieved.
Encourage your audience to act quickly
Your audience should be prompted to take action immediately after your presentation, or by a certain deadline. Giving them too much time to think it over can cause them to lose interest or simply forget what it was they were asked to do. Even if they don’t fully commit right away, consider asking them to do something that shows interest, such as signing up for a newsletter.
Lower any barriers to action
Be aware of what might hinder people from taking action—for instance, prices might be too high or there may be too many steps to get to the final goal. Offer incentives or minimize these barriers so that your audience is more motivated to take action. Consider seminar-specific discounts or some other exclusive value to those who choose to move forward with you—do what you can to show your audience that not only are you valuable to them, but they are also very valuable to you.
Focus on benefits for your audience
While your overall goal may be to accomplish something for yourself or on behalf of your company, you want to make sure your CTA highlights some type of benefit for those who do choose to participate. Make sure they know how your presentation can positively affect what they do or how it improves on what they already have.
Customize your CTA for each role
Once again, we stress the importance of knowing your audience. Perhaps you are presenting to CEOs and presidents of companies who will influence the decisions of those they work with. You might be presenting to a sales team who is concerned with how cost effective your product or service is. Maybe you are presenting to a group of people who are all at different levels within a company. In any case, you want to point out how your pitch can make a difference at every level.
People in leadership roles will be interested in the efficiency of your product. They want to stay a step ahead of competitors and be the first people to take action.
Sales representatives will want to know that they are getting great value for what they pay, so speak to them about how you can impact the pricing, effectiveness, and process efficiency. Highlight how the benefits are equal to or greater than the cost of the product or service you are pitching.
Presenting in front of any audience can be nerve-racking. These tips will help you prepare for the unexpected and feel comfortable in front of any group.
With a friendly audience, you have the ability to relax and let go of some of the pressure that comes with delivering a presentation. Just remember to stay focused on the task at hand and not let your comfort level distract you from delivering a strong presentation.
Apathetic audiences often struggle to find relevance within a presentation. Be sure to find a subject you can connect with them on so that they know you have valuable information to share.
With an uninformed audience, it is important to demonstrate your expertise while still respecting the knowledge your audience already has.
In the case of presenting to a hostile audience, work on being as objective as possible with the information you are sharing. Be understanding of why your audience might be upset, and respect differences of opinion.
The goal is to have your audience leave with the call to action ringing in their heads so that they are motivated to take action. In order to get them there, you will need to take into account the types of individuals they are, the type of audience they are, and how to lead them so they are ready to take action when you finish.
As long as you do some research on who your audience will be, there will be fewer surprises on the day of your presentation.