Oct 26, 2015

Precautions to take while presenting to a new audience

We can present to two types of audiences; First, repeat audience. People to whom we have presented before and second, new audience. People who have never met us and are attending our talk for the very first time. When we present to our colleagues, it is usually a repeat audience but when we present to customers, investors or talk at TED or TEDx the audience is completely new.

Here are 5 precautions to take while presenting to a completely new audience:

1. Boost your credibility
2. Avoid the curse of knowledge
3. Avoid jargon altogether
4. Be more likable
5. Go slow

Since the audience has never met you, credibility becomes crucial. There are two types of credibility. One, your personal credibility and second is the credibility of your message. If you are a domain expert, you have personal credibility. An experienced professor of marketing talking at TED does not need to worry about his own credibility. Having said that, he still needs to worry about the credibility of his message. If you have domain expertise, ensure that it is communicated before you begin talking. Get introduce dwell. Otherwise introduce yourself at the start. The audience should start trusting you right from the start.

Why should the audience trust your message? You plant 'credibility boosters' all over the speech or presentation. A report from McKinsey or Gartner is a credibility booster. A quote from a domain expert. A story or a news article. All these are boosters. A startup presenting to a group of investors can show images of his customers using his product, his manufacturing facility or his own images of doing consumer research. This will add a lot of credibility to what you say. You might be honest, but the audience is meeting you for the very first time and they do not know that you are honest.

Since the audience is completely new, the other things to avoid is the use of jargon. You do not know your audience well and hence assuming that they will understand your jargon is a big risk you are taking. Using jargon does not make you look smart. It hinders understanding.

I was at a Demo Day in Mumbai. Startups pitch to investors on Demo Day. One startup founder was constantly using abbreviations like KVK and PST and the audience was completely confused. When you present to a new audience, you have to be aware of the curse of knowledge. Chip and Dan Heath, in their book Made to Stick, talk about this concept in detail. You know about your industry and your business. Your audience does not. But you do not know, how it feels not to know what you already know. Hence you use jargon. You assume the audience knows what you know and you speak fast.

Lesson 1 - Speak slowly
Lesson 2 - Avoid jargon altogether
Lesson 3 - Rehearse in front of a friend who does not know anything about your business. Ask her to make notes of things she did not understand while you were presenting.

Last but not the least, let us tackle the biggest thing; Likability. We do business with people we like. We invest in companies where we like the founder and his team. Since the audience does not know you, you have to become more likable. Be natural. Do not put on an accent. Do not come across as stiff. Talk with passion and with confidence. Do not hold yourself back. Answer questions directly and do not get defensive. A successful presentation is one where the audience likes the presenter. Likability trumps everything else.

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