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It’s All About the Audience

The first and most important step in creating a great presentation is planning. And effective planning begins with understanding your audience.

First we need to ask a few key questions: What’s the purpose of this presentation? Is it to sell, or persuade? Is to communicate and teach? Does the audience have a common thread or interest (e.g. technical people, energy conservation advocates, senior citizens, business people, parents, potential customers)?

What is the audience expecting? How long is their attention span? Is humor appropriate? Will they expect detailed information or should you just hit the high points? Is the audience online, or in-person?

Many presentation experts offer hard and fast rules: “Use no more than 20 slides”. “Never use text bullets.” “Sell the benefits.” “Don’t use complex diagrams.” Rules like these may apply in the right context, but they can be useless in others. So the best rule is “Forget about the rules. Consider the needs of the audience.”

How long should we make the presentation? This too is an audience question. How long can we hold their attention? If we are creating a sales presentation for example, the optimum size may be relatively short. But a presentation that communicates information that the audience wants to understand in detail, can hold attention much longer.

If we expect the presentation to last 30 minutes, how many slides will we use? There’s no absolute answer to this question, but we can consider a few guidelines. If the presentation is online, we want the screen to be active, using animations, scene changes, pointers, highlighters, etc. Each slide will probably be on the screen for no more than 1 minute. So a 30-minute presentation would require at least 30 slides. If we stay away from lengthy text and bullet points, we may use one slide for each point, making the total even higher.

Does that mean that all presentations move fast with large numbers of slides? Does that eliminate the use of tables, charts, and diagrams? No. But complex slides of that kind require special techniques. You might magnify key segments with animations, or use other methods to highlight pieces as you step through a complex slide.

In the end, it’s always about the audience. In upcoming posts, we’ll discuss presentation design considerations that provide the best experience for our audience members.

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