Oh my goodness.
Your business partner just asked you to be the key note speaker at next week’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Or maybe your boss asked you to write up a grant proposal to get Small Business Association funding for your next project. Could it be that you need to write an after-action report for the Board of Directors, or address the elementary school PTA? Whatever it is, this is your next chance to show off your communication skills. It’s up to you to make sure it’s NOT your next chance to fall on your face.
There are three questions you need to answer before you take one step toward preparing your presentation.
Before you hone in on a topic, before you start looking for your three main points, beofre you actually begin preparing your presentation, you need to ask yourself:
- Is this necessary?
- What is my purpose?
- Who is my audience?
First Question – Is this Necessary?
Look at your email in-box: how long is the list of unread notes? Look at your calendar: How many meetings are you scheduled to attend? Listen to the voice mails: How many people want you to return their calls? Communication Overload!!!
If you are like most of us, you are buried under communication. Knowing this, you want to make sure it is absolutely necessary to add to someone else’s burden. Generally speaking, the answer is yes, this communication is necessary. But there are those times when it’s questionable. Are you writing a lengthy staff report simply because someone in senior management said, “I wonder. . .”
Do everyone a favor. Seriously consider whether the communication that you are about to prepare is really necessary. If not, save all of us some time.
Second Question – What is my Purpose?
Formal writing or speaking general falls into one of three purposes: to inform, to entertain, or to persuade. In hierarchical organizations, some will argue that there is a fourth purpose: to direct. But for this purpose, let’s consider directing a type of persuasion. Your purpose will tell you where to put your emphasis. An informative purpose will lead you to speaking or writing about the “what” or “how” of a topic.
- “I want to inform you about what our organizations vision is.”
- “I want to explain how we plan on improving performance metrics.”
A persuasive communication will talk to the why of the communication.
- “Why you should donate your time to our cause”
- “Why you should consider purchasing our product.”
And of course, entertaining is simply for the fun of it.
It’s not necessary to try to box your communication into a single purpose. There is no reason why your keynote speech can’t be both informative and entertaining. But you need to nail down what your primary purpose is to prevent both you and your audience getting confused.
Third Question – Who is my audience?
There are a number of questions about your audience that you should consider when preparing your presentation. Depending on which book or article you read, there are several versions of the list of audience considerations. The point here is not to create an all-inclusive list as much as it is to get you thinking about whom you are speaking/writing to and how you might adjust to make the communication more effective. Let’s consider some of these ideas for you to consider:
What are your audience demographics?
Audience demographics include characteristics such as age, gender, education, occupation, race, religion, and language. Consider how members of the audience may be alike. This will allow you to make logical inferences and to adapt your communication. If you are speaking at a sports banquet, describing the coordinating of comforters and pillows may not be the best way to illustrate a point. If you are writing a letter of recommendation for a student’s scholarship application, you probably would not want your praise to be cluttered with slang.
How much does your audience already know?
Look at your audience as a group, not as individual members. Are you speaking/writing about something they are already familiar with or is your topic brand new? Would an explanation of your business plan be the same if you are writing to your CPA as it would be if you were writing to an Intro to Business class at the Junior College? The use of industry jargon is an important consideration at this point. Avoiding jargon is essential when speaking to a mixed group of people, but could be downright insulting to members of the profession.
Why is your audience listening to or reading your information?
In the second question, you analyzed your purpose of communication, but that may have nothing to do with their expectations. At a staff meeting, you may be speaking to inform, but your audience is only there because they have to be. Your boss may be reading your proposal to judge your support. It helps to have an insight into what the audience expectations are so you can adapt your presentation accordingly.
It doesn’t matter how great you are at writing a paragraph or developing a main point. The above three considerations are vital to your communication. These steps should be taken before you ever begin preparing your presentation. I would never insinuate that defining your purpose and analyzing your audience will guarantee your presentation will be a success. There are too many variables in communication for any guarantees. I am confident, however, when I say that skipping these initial considerations will greatly decrease your potential for success.
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