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Please don’t overestimate your audience’s knowledge

Ask the important question first

When making a presentation to a new audience, the smart thing to do, if there is an opportunity, is to ask your audience by show of hands, if they have some knowledge of your industry or space.  And if you are making a one-to-one presentation, don’t start without a conversation about the other person’s knowledge of your space.

Asking the important question creates a connection

With that question you create an immediate connection with your audience even before beginning to present, and you know better how much explanation you will need to accompany your most elementary statements.  And you will not insult the industry experts by appearing to talk down to them.

How I ask the question

When I give a keynote address, I often start by asking my audience, by raise of hands, to tell me how many of them are angel or VC investors, how many are entrepreneurs, and how many are service providers such as attorneys.  Immediately, I can tell how to orient the explanations behind my pre-cast slides, based upon the response.  It always works, and the audience should appreciate that the speaker takes the time to orient the talk to the audience, not the other way around.

 What to do with a split audience

[Email readers, continue here…]   If your audience is composed of PhD’s in organic chemistry, would you want to explain the most elementary teachings in the field?  On the other hand, it is most often true that only one or a few of your audience members might be knowledgeable in your area of expertise.  Address them directly with “I hope you will put up with me as I spend a few moments explaining some of our elementary knowledge to the others.”  That makes these experts a part of your presentation, able to nod their heads when you do explain these things to the others, instead of looking a bit disdainful that you don’t recognize that there are experts in the room.

  • Michael B Schoettle

    Something to think about.

    Thanks for the tips,


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