Make sure your audience understands you

When did you first hear the word ‘prorogue’? While the occasion may not be up there alongside the likes of other great life events (JFK, Watergate, the Spice Girls splitting), if you are not familiar with the distinctly quirky terminology of the UK Parliament you may well have checked its meaning online only to find the lofty term could just as easily have been substituted with ‘suspend’.

Similarly, you may have questioned what ‘removing the whip’ means (it actually derives from fox hunting talk – a ‘whipper in’ being the chap who used to crack the whip when hounds began to stray). Nothing more than that by the way.

However, there’s a stickling for tradition in the House of Commons (and Lords) that feeds into the UK political vernacular, where past still plays a significant role in formulating the political language of the day. Yes it’s quirky, yes it can be confusing and yes it’s part of our history and so we accept it because this is the way it’s been done for many years: “The ayes have it. Unlock!”

Will Your Audience Understand?

That may be true for parliamentary business, but the same cannot be said for any other type of business where the occasion demands you share your knowledge with an audience. I have touched on the subject of avoiding unnecessary jargon before. It is one of my bugbears, and I am not alone in my disdain for the unnecessary practice of boring your audience with a presentation packed full of business-speak or technical details which read like the instructions to assembling a washing machine, should Ikea decide to put their name to one.

Overcomplicating for your audience is a common pitfall for the speaker. In the preparation stage, the challenge of formulating material into some cohesive narrative is daunting. Anxiety about coming across like you know what you’re talking about can often prompt a lurch into the opposite direction in an attempt to justify your knowledge amongst your peers. But pitching your content too high, and losing a share of your audience in the process, is a zero-sum game for all involved.

Make Your Audience Understand

Knowing your audience is one of the best ways of avoiding this pitfall. If you are presenting at a large event then do your research. Have a look at the other speakers on the bill and work out how you slot into the bigger picture. Such large events will be built around fairly general themes. Due to the nature of a diverse audience your presentation should walk a fine line between bringing your specialist knowledge to the table (for those in the know) and providing informative background (for those who haven’t a clue).

Such awareness of the crowd is also relevant for smaller events such as a seminar or round table presentation. An effective presentation needs to take into account that attendees may come with different interests and specialist skills that exist in a different dimension to your own, despite you all being in the same business. In an ideal world, you will do a bit of research on those attending beforehand, and factor in their interests so as to make your presentation relevant.

Never assume that everyone in the room will know what you’re talking about and never waste time going into deep background detail in an attempt to explain how you got to the point you did. It may well have taken two months of hard work; that was your cross to bear and we’re not interested in hearing about it unless it really is relevant to the point you’re making.

When preparing your presentation, adjust your language, and add short explanations to reinforce technical terms or complicated processes. Acknowledge that not everyone in the room may be familiar with what you’re talking about..

Now, where’s Black Rod when I need him?