A teaser from the eBook Presenting For Geeks

How do you prepare for a presentation?

Research Your Audience

When the audience is at the centre of your presentation, it should be obvious that you need to see things from their perspective. What does your audience know about your topic? What is their skill level? Do you need to explain to them that PHP is a scripting language or can you make a joke about an obscure bug in PHP 5.4 and they will get it?

It’s also important to understand what they expect from you and your presentation. For example, is it meant to be purely informational or do they expect you to show them a solution to a very specific problem that they have?

At a conference, you can control the sort of people that will attend your presentation, by making it clear what it is going to be about in the talk’s description (which will be printed in the conference program or on the invitation). If you make it clear that it’s an advanced topic, hardly any beginners will attend (and those who do will be prepared not to understand all of it). But this approach doesn’t always work, for example when the topic of your talk isn’t very technical. So you need to do some research to find out more about your audience in order to be able to adjust your presentation to their needs and expectations.

The event organisers should be able to help you here. They will usually have a good idea about who attends their events and of the mix of people you can expect to find there. If you are talking to a specific audience, for example a user group, you can easily do some research yourself. Find their homepage, topics of previous talks, photos, or their mailing list.

As a result, usually you won’t be able to give exactly the same presentation to another audience. But that doesn’t mean that you will have to start from scratch every time you are going to talk about basically the same topic. It just means that you shouldn’t pull out the same slide deck and start talking without having done some basic research. On the plus side, your audience will appreciate it when they realise that they are watching a custom-made presentation. So at the very least, you should update your slides to include the name and date of the event. It should also be easy to include some custom references, for example to the city or to a member of the local community. Keep in mind that even when speaking to three Java user groups within one week, they will all have a different mix of personalities and skill levels. So what works for one audience doesn’t necessarily work for another, even if they seem similar at first.


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