It’s a question for the ages: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
A myriad of philosophers have mused over the question’s implications regarding meaning, observation, and reality, but Scientific American, true to form, answered it neatly sans philosophical concerns: “The falling of the tree or any other disturbance will produce the vibration of the air. If there be no ears to hear, there will be no sound.”
I’d like to propose a similar question in regards to presentations: If there is a presentation and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Sure, the presenter’s words will make a sound, but they may as well not. With no audience to hear the words, the presentation will simply float on undigested into a void.
Your audience is the most important part of a presentation, and don’t you forget it.
Be Enormously Engaging
The giving of a presentation naturally implies the presence of an audience. But it’s important to realize, before you even begin, that while you can safely expect to have the audience’s polite attention at first, it is your job as presenter to truly engage them.
The verb ‘engage’ is defined in a heap of ways: to attract and hold the attention of, to engross, to draw into, to involve, and to occupy– all of which we want our presentation to accomplish with our audience. We must move our audience’s attitude from attentive to engaged. We must have them engrossed, enthusiastic and excited about our message. We must encourage and foster their emotional involvement in our presentation.
Know Who They Are
The first step in cultivating that kind of engagement with your audience is to do your homework. You wouldn’t speak to a roomful of teenagers the same way you’d speak to a roomful of CEOs, so know a thing or two about your audience. Better yet, learn as much as possible about them, so you can tailor your presentation’s message to them directly.
If you know specifics about your audience– where they’re from, what work they do, what their interests are– you can speak in particulars regarding how your message is relevant to their lives. You can tell them in detail why it should matter to them. Your audience doesn’t care about what you want; they care about what they want. So align your message with their interests.
Take a Walk in Their Shoes
Once you accept the rather humbling fact that the only person that cares about what you want is you (and likewise for all the men and women in the audience), you should take a brisk walk around in your audience’s shoes. Get comfortable in those shoes because it will improve your presentation immensely if you commit to memory what it’s like to live in them.
Become a master at viewing things from your audience’s point of view so that you can craft your presentation specifically for them. View yourself, your company, and your story from the eyes of your audience, so you can better explain to them why your message is important and why they should care.
To conclude, I’d like to offer a slightly more nuanced version of our introductory question: If there is a presentation and an attentive yet unengaged audience is present, does it make a sound? Yes, but not one that anyone will remember.
Be unashamedly, unabashedly, unambiguously interested in your audience. Know them like the back of your hand, walk around for a while in their shoes, and engage them unrelentingly.