Sunday, July 3, 2016

Know Your Audience

by Gilda Bonanno

One of the main rules of successful presentation preparation is to know your audience. Here are some tips to consider when you're thinking about how to connect to your audience, whether it's an audience of 1 or 100:

·       Know what's playing on station WIIFM.  That's the station the people in your audience are tuned into - "What's In It For Me?"   They're focused on WIIFM (pronounced "wiff-um") not because they are self-centered, but because they are bombarded with information and have to filter it in order to stay afloat. They can only retain a small part of what you're saying and they need to find which part is most relevant to them.  State the WIIFM outright; for example, in a presentation about transitions, you might say, "If you understand the stages of reaction to change, you will be better able to understand what your employees will go through when the merger is announced next month."

·       Know their style.  Does this audience want to see the graphs? Do they want the big picture or the details? Are they geared towards defining the problem or hearing a solution? 

·       Know their background.  Are they experts in the field you're talking about or novices? Will everyone understand the industry jargon that you're using? For example, if you mention "AEs" in a presentation, salespeople may interpret it as Account Executives, while those in the pharma industry may interpret it as Adverse Events (which are negative reactions to medication). You have to speak in a language that everyone can understand easily and be careful not to talk down to them or over their heads.

·       Know their interest level. Are you trying to win over a hostile audience? Are you talking to an audience that is already passionate about the topic? Are they bored by the topic?  If you're a tax accountant speaking to small business owners about the tedious details of the state tax code, you might have to work harder to keep their interest than if you were talking to other accountants. Similarly, if you're the speaker standing between the audience and lunch, there is a greater expectation that you will end on time (or better yet, even earlier).

Sometimes knowing your audience is easy because it's made up of people you know personally or work with on a daily basis. Even then, you should  take a step back and rethink the audience in the context of this presentation. 

At other times, you don't know anything about them and you'll have to do some research.  Do an internet search for the company or the individual and browse their websites.  If they don't have a website, you can look for websites related to their industry to discover the hot topics or industry concerns. You also can get feedback from colleagues who know members of your audience.  Or ask to interview a few people in the audience a few days or weeks before you present.

What if you gather information about your audience, only to find out that they're a mix of different styles, backgrounds and interest levels? That situation is a challenge.  You should choose the "relevant" subsection of the audience to focus on - for example, the decision makers, or the largest identifiable group in the audience.  Be careful not to ignore everyone else.  No one likes to be ignored and you never know what roles the other people in the room might fill in the future.

The next time you have to speak to an audience, whether it's an audience of 1 or 100, spend some time doing an audience analysis, using these tips.  Then rework your presentation based on your analysis so that you can speak to them in language they understand and use material that makes sense to them. Ultimately, knowing your audience will make it easier for you to convey your message effectively.  And it will ensure that the people in your audience understand your message and act on it, which is the point of giving a presentation!

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Face Your Public Speaking Fears

by Gilda Bonanno

If you're like most people on the planet, you have fears.  And like many people, you may be afraid of speaking in public.  Whether it's a mind-numbing, knee-knocking, stomach-churning fear, or a milder, less invasive, I'd-rather-not-be-doing-this fear, it can get in the way of your professional success and your personal growth.

In my presentation skills classes, I ask participants to identify their fearsResponses include what you might expect; for example, "I'm afraid my mind will go blank" and "I'm afraid I'll lose my place."  Next, I ask the crucial question, "And then what will happen?"

The responses always amaze me.  When we dig deeply into that fear, what began as "I'm afraid my mind will go blank" or "I'm afraid I'll lose my place" ends up as "and then I'll look stupid in front of my boss, and then I'll get fired, and then I'll lose my house, and then my spouse will leave me, and then the dog will run away." 

No wonder you don't want to give that presentation - you fear that your entire life is riding on it!

How likely is it that all those terrible things will happen, as a result of this one presentation? Very unlikely!

Yet the fact that someone is worrying about these terrible things shows how powerful fear can be and how debilitating. 

Once you identify it, however, you can subject it to logic (does this fear really make sense?) and probability (what are the odds these awful things will happen?) and start to weaken its power over you.

Franklin Roosevelt said it best in his first Inaugural Address in 1933, when the United States was in the grip of the Great Depression: "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

When I worked as an archivist at the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library, I had the opportunity to hold the actual copy of that speech in my hand and those words have stayed with me.  
And everything that we've discussed here about the power of fear is applicable to all aspects of our lives, even beyond public speaking - we all have things that we avoid doing out of fear.  These are things that we should and could do, like
looking for a better job, taking an exercise class or getting a handle on our finances.

Think about it - what would you do if you weren't afraid? How is fear paralyzing your efforts to convert retreat into advance?

If you'd like more specific help with identifying your fears and lessening the impact they have on your presentation skills, call me at 203-979-5117 for info about my presentation skills coaching program.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

6 Tips for Introducing Yourself at the Start of Your Presentation

Check out my latest guest blog post for Susan Solovic's website: 

 6 Tips for Introducing Yourself at the Start of Your Presentation 

THE Small Business Expert, Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning serial entrepreneur, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, top 100 and USA Today bestselling author, media personality, sought-after keynote speaker, and attorney.

Monday, June 27, 2016

40 Under 40 Honors Fairfield County Professionals

I am proud to have been a supporter-level sponsor of the recent 40 Under 40 Awards, hosted by the Fairfield County Business Journal and Westfair Communications. 

The Business Journal honored 40 professionals at the 12th annual event held at the Dolce Norwalk. More than 300 guests attended the event, which included a cocktail reception and a formal award ceremony.

The 40 awardees thanked their colleagues, mentors and loved ones, and called upon the group to bring about change in their respective industries. 

For more information, photos and a list of the winners, visit

Sunday, June 26, 2016