3 ways to get to know your audience before you present

What is the first thing you do when you are preparing for a presentation? Most people seem to think that the first step is to go to the drawing board, opening up powerpoint and start creating slides. However, when building your presentation, the first thing you should be doing instead is understanding your audience. This blog will give you a summary overview of a technique we call ‘audience analysis’, with the purpose of adjusting the structure, design and delivery of your presentation to your audience in order to optimise impact and retention. The main point is that you should not ask yourself ‘what do I need to tell my audience’, but rather ‘what does my audience want to hear from me’. Let’s look at the 3 most relevant ways to analyse your audience:


Age: what is the average age of your audience and what are the consequences of that average age.

Tone of voice: how should you talk to them / how should you design your slides in order to talk in their language?

Passion: what keeps them awake at night? And how can this effect the effectiveness of your presentation? Is there anything in your opener that can tie back to this passion of your audience?

Reason to care: different age-groups might have different priorities – why should your audience care about the topic you’ll talk about during your presentation?


Do they care about your topic?

Does your audience already care about your topic or not? If not, think about how you can link your topic to something of personal interest to your audience.

What do they already know about your topic?

This is extremely important to think about before building your presentation because it defines whether you need to explain basic concepts or not. And what should you do when half of my audience is expert in my topic and the other half is a novice in my topic? 2 basic rules of thumb:

  1. Adjust your presentation to the lowest level of knowledge.
  2. The larger the group, the more likely part of your audience will have very low knowledge about the topic you are talking about.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that if you are an expert in your topic that you might have difficulties with imagining that your audience is not yet aware of the simplest of concepts. This is called the curse of knowledge (click here for further reading) and is defined as: ‘once you know something it is hard to imagine not knowing it’.

What do they expect to hear from you?

This is what is called ‘assumption-analysis’ or ‘hypothesis-analysis’ (please click herefor further reading). In summary: if the main conclusion of your presentation disconfirms the assumptions of your audience (or disconfirms their main hypothesis), a mechanism called the ‘confirmation bias’ will kick in. This basically means that your audience will automatically focus on all the data that confirms what they assume to be true and ignore all data that disconfirms what they assume to be true. Focusing on certain parts of the dataset means interpreting data out of context, resulting in unreliable conclusions and recommendations = a valueless key message.


Situational analysis refers to ‘the observation of your audience during your presentation’ and is a model that helps presenters to divide the live audience into ‘allies’ and ‘enemies’.This is a slightly more advanced technique that can support you in making sure the audience accepts your key message – by seeking verbal confirmation of certain arguments from your allies during your presentation, and allowing for debate between the allies and enemies, you can win over the most critical members of the audience. This will become especially important when the VIP (the most important member in the audience, often the key decision maker) has become an enemy during your presentation.


Always remember to ‘put your audience first’. It’s one of the most overlooked aspects of an effective presentation. Know who your speaking to, in order to make sure what you say is relevant to them.