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SME Speaking Tips and Audience Information

Who is your audience?

If you're asked to present, the first questions are about the audience. Knowing your audience is an important factor in deciding whether or not you want to accept the invitation to speak and in determining what material to share and how to present it. Audience research is easy — just answers these four questions:

  1. How many people will attend?
  2. What is their background (where do they work)?
  3. What would be of interest to them?
  4. How familiar are they with the subject?

These answers will help identify the amount and complexity of your material. and it will allow you to start thinking about what types of examples will be the most effective.

Effectively Teaching Adult Learners

  • It’s important to know your audience and have a general understanding of how adults learn. Much has been written about the topic, and you can find suggestions for additional reading on the Web. To best reach adults, there are five key factors you should focus on in the development of your training:
  • The material presented should have immediate usefulness to the learners.
  • The material presented should be relevant to adult learners’ lives.
  • The training environment should be welcoming so that all learners feel safe to participate.
  • The training presentation should be engaging.
  • The training should be presented in a respectful manner, where learners have an opportunity to share their experiences.

Following these key principles will help you determine what to include in your training and how to present it. Make your training relevant to the learner by recognizing the unique background and experience of people working in public health. To engage your audience, use examples or anecdotes showing how the material is relevant.

What is your purpose?

After you have identified the characteristics of your audience, you can determine what it is you want to accomplish with your presentation. Are you hoping to persuade people? Are you hoping to inform people? Do you have a call to action that you’re hoping people will act upon afterward? After you’ve answered these questions, you’ll write your objectives.

What is the venue?

You’ll want to find out as much as possible about the venue in which you’ll be presenting. It will help you understand how to best present your information and will make the presentation less stressful because there won’t be any surprises.

The size of the room affects the size of the audience and how far they are from the presenter and visual aids. The room size determines whether you can speak to the whole room or if your voice will need to be amplified. Microphones can impact whether you can walk freely around the room or stage, or if you need to be at a podium. Knowing about your venue will tell you if there are large projection screens, videos being played of the speaker for those in the back or if it’s a more intimate setting. It will let you know if you need technical assistance or if you need to arrive early to learn about the equipment.  If it’s a more intimate setting, you should know the way in which the room will be arranged. Will you be standing in front of people or will everyone be gathered around a table? A smaller venue introduces possibilities for other types of visual aids, such as a tangible object, poster or document everyone can simultaneously see.

Effective Presentation Guidelines

Slides are visual aids that help to communicate your key messages. Used correctly, they increase earning, clarify what you are describing and engage the audience. They allow you to reach both visual and auditory learners. PowerPoint has become a mainstay of current presentations, but most people use PowerPoint poorly. Your audience will appreciate the time you spend planning and developing dynamic and interesting visuals. They will also better retain the information, especially visual learners. By following the guidelines in this section, you’ll be able to make your slides look more professional in no time.

Slides are meant to enhance your oral presentation, not summarize it or serve as a transcript. Many people think slides should contain much of the text of their presentations so people can refer back to them, or use them as handouts. If that’s your intention, create handouts, which can have more detailed information; slides are not the right tool. Slides are supposed to support the live presentation, nothing else. They are a visual prop, not the focus of the presentation. We tend to hide behind our slides because it's intimidating to present to people, but the focus of the audience should be on you with only occasional references to the slides for specific, identified purposes.

TED Talks are an example of slides used effectively. Composition slides are consistently overfilled. Everyone’s been to a presentation with slides that cannot be read, packed with graphs or text. These slides are not effective; they’re distracting. Instead of listening and learning, people are struggling to read. A few key points that frame your presentation might be helpful, but be sure the text is needed and not just distracting. Slides should be simple. They should illustrate. Everyone loves images and visuals. In fact, slides have helped presenters reach more people with more information because people learn differently, and many people are visual learners.