Have you ever given a presentation that was a complete flop? Even with an audience of one, you might get that deer-in-the-headlights gaze when you’re explaining the finer points of a tax return to your business owner client.
Chances are, you left out the most crucial part of preparing your presentation: understanding your audience. When you take the time to think about them and put yourself in their shoes, you have the opportunity to connect and really communicate.
Frequently, people who haven’t given many presentations make the mistake of thinking they need to show the audience how smart they are. So, they use big words or insider lingo and speak way over everyone’s heads.
The real secret to impressing your audience with your knowledge is to engage and communicate with them. The best speakers don’t try to show off how smart they are, but instead connect with the audience at their level.
As financial professionals, we also need to keep in mind that while we’re fluent in the language of numbers and accounting, our audience may not be. This means we need to translate our ideas into words they understand. Here’s what you need to focus on.
Why Should They Care?
Does the information you’re providing connect with your audience in any way? Think about your topic from their point of view. Here are some questions they may have about it:
Does this apply to my situation?
Do I need to do anything different?
If I don’t change, will this cost me something in the long run?
What’s the reward if I do make this change? Will this save me on taxes or make my business more profitable?
The answers to these questions will help you create a presentation that’s meaningful and will help them understand the information you want to convey.
What Kind of Information Works Best for this Audience?
Besides establishing a connection between the needs of your audience and the information you want to share with them, you’ll need to consider how best to get it across. Remember: In this case, demographics matter.
This is especially important if you’re giving a presentation on financial information. For example, if you’re speaking to a group of accountants, you’ll want to include numbers and graphs because that’s the language they understand. But if your audience is writers or artists, you’ll need to present the information in a more visual way.
It is inevitable that at some point, you will deal with individuals who will not share your views, opinions or approach. In those instances, you’ll want to quickly assess a person’s communication style and personality so you can adapt and keep the conversation going.
What Do They Already Know?
Understanding your audience’s level of competence allows you to tailor your presentation to meet or slightly exceed their level of expertise. That alignment of what they know and what you are sharing allows you to create a conversation with them. Remember that financial illiteracy is rampant these days, so don’t be surprised if you need to clearly and simply explain basic accounting and tax concepts.
Choose Your Words Wisely
The next crucial part is making sure your audience understands the words you use. Plain English almost always works better than lingo or jargon, unless you’re sure everyone knows those terms.
Some words have different meanings to professionals than to the general public. For example, when most people hear “depreciation,” they think of the value a car loses when they drive it off the dealer’s lot. But for us accountants, it has a completely different meaning.
I’d also like to note that adding appropriate humor also helps forge a connection with your audience. It can also make you more human and less of a “sage on a stage.”
For instance, economic update speeches, as you might imagine, can be incredibly dry, boring and utterly uninspiring. But when Steve Forbes gave one at the National Speakers Association’s 2014 annual convention, it was anything but dull.
He avoided technical terms, made it funny and used analogies everyone could comprehend. Because he understood his audience very well and explained economics in terms we would understand and relate to, he got a standing ovation for his speech.
Preparation Pays Off
The next time you are delivering any type of presentation about a complex technical topic, spend time thinking about who will be in that audience. Consider the ways you can put things in context or use analogies everyone can relate to.
Yes, this will take a lot of hard work, and no, you are not dumbing down the content. You are crafting your presentation so everyone can understand the topic much better. Even when you’re talking one on one with one of your clients, it’s important to consider their need for financial information. This hard work will pay off tenfold, and your audience will walk away with some much-needed knowledge that they can retain.
Peter Margaritis, CPA is an international speaker, humorist, and the author of “Improv Is No Joke: Using Improvisation to Create Positive Results in Leadership and in Life” and “Taking The Numb Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity.” Peter is a member of the AICPA, Georgia Society of CPAs,...