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Strategy 1:. Know Thy Audience


We have all attended great presentations; the only problem was that they were for the wrong audience. There are two possible reasons for this. First, the presenter did not adequately research the audience and what it needed. Second, the speaker's presentation was not appropriately aligned with the audience's demographics and/or psychographics. The following example illustrates what can happen.

Jack Welch was chairman of General Electric for 20 years. During that time, GE grew from $26.8 billion in revenue to more than $130 billion. Welch also became one of the most celebrated business leaders in U.S. history. In his biography, Jack: Straight from the Gut, Welch talks about one of his first speeches as chairman of GE to Wall Street analysts:

I had been in the job for eight months when I went to New York City on December 8th, 1981, to deliver my big message on the "New GE." I had worked on the speech, rewriting it, rehearsing it, and desperately wanting it to be a smash hit.

It was, after all, my first public statement on where I wanted to take GE ... .

My first time in front of Wall Street's analysts as chairman was a bomb.

... the analysts arrived that day expecting to hear the financial results and the successes achieved by the company during the year. They expected a detailed breakdown of the financial numbers ... . Over a 20-minute speech, I gave them little of what they wanted and quickly launched into a qualitative discussion around my vision for the company ...

I pressed on, not letting their blank stares discourage me ... .

What happened to Jack Welch can happen to any presenter who does not take the time to truly know his or her audience. In the Introduction you learned that your presentations must be credible and relevant. The following eight techniques are designed to make your presentations as credible and relevant as possible.

8 Techniques to "Know Thy Audience"

We have all heard the maxim "know thyself." In order to give high-impact presentations, it is not only necessary to "know thyself," you also have to "know thy audience." And just because you have worked in the same organization for many years, don't make the unwarranted assumption that you know your audience. The following eight techniques are guaranteed to help you "know thy audience" whether speaking to your staff, peers, senior management, or giving a keynote address to the board of directors and shareholders at your organization's annual general meeting.

The eight techniques are:

  1. Pre-session surveys.

  2. Face-to-face interviews.

  3. Telephone interviews.

  4. Case studies.

  5. Worksite visits.

  6. Job shadowing.

  7. Annual and/or other published reports.

  8. Websites and Internet research.

1. Pre-Session Surveys

There are two main types of pre-session surveys. The first type is a generalized survey that is used to assess the demographics of the audience. This basic survey is designed to tell you how many people will attend, the ratio of male to female participants, the participants' educational levels, and how homogeneous or heterogeneous the audience is.

The second type of pre-presentation survey yields more detailed information, by asking specific questions to assess the participants' specific learning and / or developmental needs. An example of this type of survey (Figure 1-1) was developed by a pharmaceutical company to help us identify the needs for a course on presentation skills to be given to representatives who call on physicians and hospitals. This survey would help us customize the presentation to be more relevant to the participants' specific needs. While the following example was designed as a pre-presentation survey for presentations seminars, with only minor adjustments you can adapt this example to work for any presentation.

Do You Know:

(Yes / No)

The strategies used by skilled presenters?


Your preferred presentation style and when to use it?


Your audience's needs, expectations, and level of knowledge of the subject matter?


How to organize your presentations for impact?


How to give a dynamic delivery that has in-depth content?


How to create a presentation that is memorable, actionable, and transferable?


How to get genuine commitment by setting mutually beneficial goals? In other words, how to increase the return on investment from the presentation.


(Please write in your answer)
Have you taken a presentation course before?


If so, what did you learn?

What are your expectations for this course?

What would you like the facilitator to focus on?

Are you comfortable giving presentations to your customers or clients in both small and large groups?

What skills, knowledge, or strategies would make it easier for you to obtain a greater return on your investment?

What three challenges do you anticipate in the next three months where well-developed presentations skills would be an asset?

  1. ________________________________________

  2. ________________________________________

  3. ________________________________________

Please feel free to include any additional comments that will help in your learning process.

Figure 1-1: Sample Pre-Session Survey

2. Face-to-Face Interviews

Face-to-face pre-seminar interviews can be incredibly insightful. If you ask the right type of questions, in the right way, and at the right time, you can achieve deeper levels of communication with the audience members with whom you will be speaking.

For example, if your audience consists mostly of IT specialists, you probably want to interview IT specialists to determine their profession-specific issues. Audiences appreciate speakers who show interest in, and knowledge of, their specific issues and concerns. If, however, your audience is very heterogeneous, you may find it desirable to interview a wide variety of individuals at different levels within that organization.

In summary, pre-seminar interviews will not only provide you with relevant information, they also cut down on preparation time, because you will have a much clearer focus on what you need to prepare for. Additionally, you will be much less likely to prepare information that your audience does not need to hear.

There are several advantages of having a written interview protocol: You will have had to think of the questions ahead of time, the questions can often be improved upon after a suitable time of reflection, and you are much less likely to forget to ask an important question during the interview. In addition, if there is an uncomfortable pause in the interview, you know exactly what question to ask next. Lastly, you have the opportunity to test the questionnaire in advance and incorporate any suggestions or corrections. At the same time, you should be flexible enough to add relevant information that the interviewee wants to tell you, and to modify the interview protocol accordingly where it makes sense to do so.

3. Phone Interviews

Because face-to-face interviews can be time-consuming, the subject may be reluctant to consent to a sit-down interview. When this occurs, consider using telephone interviews. Telephone interviews offer two main advantages: convenience and a perception of anonymity. Of course the concept of anonymity is merely a perception, but the fact is, some people are more "open" in a telephone interview than in a face-to-face interview.

When using telephone interviews, you must concentrate on three things. First, you have to guarantee confidentiality when it is appropriate and/or when the interviewee requests it. This understanding must be considered sacrosanct. If you ever violate a source's trust, your source may never speak with you again. Second, you must be a superb interviewer. Third, you must have the ability to ask "high-yield questions." High-yield questions" result in high-yield answers. Several such high-yield questions are:

Of course, you need to develop questions that work for you and are germane to the content area of your presentation. If you formulate and ask great questions, you will be amazed at the depth and quality of the information that you will receive. By doing even three or four telephone interviews, you can tailor your presentation so that it is much more likely to hit the mark.

Three is the absolute minimum number of people you should interview. However, by the time you talk to three people, you should have a much better idea of the issues people are facing in their organization. One interview is risky because that one person could either be the most contented or the most unhappy; the most knowledgeable or the least informed of all the employees within that organization. One word of caution: Don't let the attitudes or opinions of one person lead you to an inaccurate perception of the greater audience's needs.

We have found that on rare occasions when we have not taken the time to do this, our own presentations can miss the mark. Although this has happened to Sean on two occasions, those two occasions were two too many. Sean assumed that what worked well in two locations of one organization would work in the third, so he did not do any pre-interviews. Unfortunately, this was a false assumption and the presentation did not work very well. Remember, despite the similarities you may think two audiences have, each is composed of unique individuals with unique needs.

4. Case Studies

Case studies also work incredibly well for workshops, skills training sessions, or sessions where your goal is to help your audience solve problems more efficiently and creatively. We gave a workshop on negotiation for the IT department at the head office of a large international organization. Prior to doing the workshop, the participants were told by the head of the training department that submitting a case study was a requirement for attending the training session. The instructions to the participants appear in Figure 1-2.

Guidelines of Effective Case Development

Please write a one- or two-paragraph description about a challenging person and/or situation that you have had to deal with or are currently dealing with at work. The case studies can be anonymous and/or disguised as they will be used during the course to make the course more interesting and applicable to the type of work you and your colleagues do.

Effective cases are inherently interesting ones in which all parties stand to gain or lose depending on the outcome of the case. Effective cases are also ones in which the apparent solutions are not obvious but require collaboration and creative thinking so that optimal rather than sub-optimal solutions are found.

If you have not found a suitable solution, please submit your case anyway. Previous participants have found that their colleagues have contributed many excellent ideas that have led to very good solutions. Other times, the group has decided that Mother Teresa or Gandhi could not have done a better job, and the person who submitted the case could rest easier knowing that some of life's problems do not have ready solutions.

Figure 1-2: Participant Instructions For The Development Of Case Studies

Sean found that reviewing the participants' case studies gave him an in-depth sense of the type of problems that needed to be negotiated. Because the case studies were relevant to everyone in the room, he also gained a great deal of credibility. First, the case studies were real issues and problems that the participants had to face in their everyday work life. Second, the participants learned how to apply the course materials to actual real-life examples that they had to face, which thereby increased the transfer of training. Third, they could also determine if the problem in the case study was a problem in individual skill development or where or to what degree the problem was a systems problem, that is to say, how much of the problem had its origins in the organization's procedures, organizational structure, or climate and culture.

As a trainer, facilitator, or presenter, you can sense the energy level in the room increase when the participants' case studies are introduced. Having the case studies submitted in advance helps the trainer better determine which ones would be most appropriate to use and also where in the program or course would be the best place to use them in terms of the theory and/or course content that is being presented.

If you are not giving a workshop or a training session, you still might want to ask the participants to submit brief case studies (a paragraph or less) because they will still give you insight into the issues or dynamics of the organization, and this too will give you an opportunity to make sure that your speech or presentation hits the mark.

5. Worksite Visits

Worksite visits can also give you a feeling for the participants' work environment. Sean has gone 3,000 feet underground to prepare for an address to a group of miners. He also had the opportunity to speak to a group of participants who worked on an oil rig. Visiting the rig was very instructive and allowed Sean to tailor his presentation much more specifically to that particular audience.

Aaron has spoken at Volvo's headquarters plant in Gothenburg, Sweden. Because it was in a country and a culture different from those he had experienced previously, he found that a tour of the facility proved helpful in relating his message to his audience. It provided him with a glimpse of the audience's work environment and he was able to include a few "local" references in his talk.

6. Job Shadowing

Job shadowing means that you go to the worksite to observe individuals as they work. As a result, the presenter can gain a good idea of what the employees do, and how they go about it. When securing permission to observe, you may also want to obtain permission to interview individuals as they do their work or as soon as possible after they have completed their work. Sean prepared a presentation for a police department in Halifax by getting permission to go on an evening patrol with one of the officers. Although he had seen many high-speed chases on TV, he wasn't prepared for what it felt like. Nor was he prepared for what it would be like to drive through one of the "worst" parts of the city being seen as a police officer. This experience helped prepare Sean for his presentation better than any face-to-face interview with even the most articulate police officer ever could have.

7. Annual and/or Other Published Reports

Annual and other published reports are another way to get valuable information about the company or organization you will be working with in advance of your presentation. There may be an issue that the company or organization has raised that you could contribute to through your presentation. Likewise, there may be something in the vision, mission statement, and strategic goals and challenges that could add a great deal of value to the presentation.

8. Websites and Internet Research

Having an accurate, informative, and up-to-date website is a necessity in today's competitive business environment. Therefore, the prospective speaker can get some very good information, both directly and indirectly, about an organization. This information can also help in planning an organizational survey or face-to-face or telephone interview more precisely because you will have a better idea of what to ask. In other words, sometimes a combination of methods can bring about the best results.

If you do not have the internet skills to help you get the information you need, you can learn them easily by using various search engines such as Google. You could also consider paying someone (perhaps one of your children or a high school or university student - a goodly number are tech savvy) to do research on the internet. Lastly, don't overlook your local library - librarians are professionals trained in information retrieval and search strategies. We can't begin to tell you how helpful they have been to us and can be to you.

Knowing your audience is just the start. You will also need to align what you know about your audience with six critical variables that can affect how receptive that audience will be to your message.


Many of us have had the experience of being in a car with tires badly out of alignment. As a result the ride was rough, unpleasant, and distracting. This analogy holds true for presentations as well. If the presenter is not aligned with the audience, the presenter will be in for a rough ride and the attendees will find the presentation unpleasant and will quickly become distracted. Therefore, knowing your audience is not enough; you also must make sure that your goals and the goals of the organization and of the audience are all in alignment.

Six critical factors can help align a presentation with the audience's and organization's needs and expectations. They are:

  1. The fit between the topic you are presenting and the other presentations that will be offered.

  2. The experience level of the audience.

  3. The heterogeneous/homogeneous nature of the audience.

  4. The fatigue level of the audience.

  5. The mood of the audience.

  6. The attendees' learning styles.

1. The Fit Between the Topic You Are Presenting and the Other Presentations That Will Be Offered

Find out all you can about the program, plus its theme and schedule before you agree to do your presentation. Several years ago Sean was scheduled to do a presentation on stress management. He felt confident that he could do a good job. He had developed an excellent dynamic interactive presentation and had successfully given the presentation on numerous occasions. Sean was following a luncheon speaker, Sharon Woods. Sharon is the first North American woman to have climbed Mt. Everest.

When Sharon first started her program, she didn't appear to be that dynamic. However, when she projected her first overhead image, it had the name of her expedition, "Everest Light" and Sharon became superwoman. She then played a video, which so graphically illustrated her climb that the audience could feel and hear the howling winds. It was as if Sharon took the audience on the climb with her up to the top of the world's highest mountain. Her presentation was magnificent. Unfortunately, after the break, Sean was slated to make his presentation on stress management. At this point, no one cared about stress management. As a friend of Brad's said, only half jokingly, "Sharon took us up the mountain, and you brought us back down!" Ouch.

Sean learned a lot about alignment from that disaster. If he could have done his presentation on "Peak Performers" it would have fit much better with the tone that Sharon had set. Since that day, he always asks to see a copy of the conference schedule before he agrees to present. If they don't have a complete schedule, he asks to see what they do have. If they don't have a schedule at all, he asks for as much clarification as he can get on the theme of that particular conference.

Aaron learned a similar lesson at the end of a four-day conference.

Aaron: I was the closing keynote speaker, set to go on at 10:30 a.m. as the final speaker of the day. After three solid days, the attendees were tired and ready to head home. All that stood between them and "freedom" was me. Unfortunately, there was a 30-minute break between the first speaker and me. If the first speaker had been dynamic or entertaining, his momentum could carry over through the long break. However, the speaker was neither dynamic nor entertaining, and in just 45 minutes, he proceeded to put the audience into a stupor. Break time came and the audience departed in droves. When it was my turn, less than half the audience remained. The frustrating part of it is that I could do absolutely nothing to prevent it. Thereafter, I always make a point of asking, "Who and what are scheduled on either side of my presentation?" so I can prepare accordingly.

2. The Experience Level of the Audience

Two unforgivable presentation sins are talking down to your audience and talking over their heads. Therefore, you must do everything in your power to find out the experience level of your potential audience. At times you will be given an audience that has inherently mixed levels of experience and you must develop materials that can be helpful to and enjoyed by participants at various levels. This means that the materials are so well prepared that participants at very junior levels and at very senior levels can benefit at the same time. Another strategy is to divide the group into subgroups and have them work on a project with people at the same level of experience. One of our favorite techniques is to have people at the same level in an organization work on a shared problem. Participants from engineering would work on the problem from an engineering perspective, while sales would work on it from a sales perspective, and manufacturing would work on it from a manufacturing perspective. They can then look at the problem and possible solutions based on each group's perspective.

3. The Heterogeneous/Homogeneous Nature of the Audience

The following example illustrates the importance of how heterogeneous or homogeneous your audience is.

Sean was once asked to give a presentation on time management at a resort. The group was the Young Presidents Organization and from the presentation description, Sean knew that this would be a difficult presentation to deliver. First, the audience consisted of children ages 9 and older plus their parents. He sensed that if he spoke to the parents, he would lose the children, or if he spoke to the children he would lose their parents.

The second factor that made the presentation difficult was that it was a murder mystery weekend. Now, if you were going to give a "serious" (or even "not so serious") presentation on time management, when would you least want the "murder" to occur: during the presentation or just before you present? As luck would have it, the "murder" took place just before Brad's presentation. It was very realistic. An ambulance came to take the body away and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) came to investigate the crime. Unfortunately, there were several 5-year-olds who thought it was a bit too realistic and promptly became hysterical. The presentation had to be postponed until the 5-year-olds could be taken to a hotel room where they could see that the actress was indeed alive and the blood from the bullet wound was indeed ketchup. After the half-hour delay, they were ready to begin the presentation on time management.

At that point in time, how many people in the room were interested in a presentation on time management? We would venture to guess that no one was really interested. But Sean had a secret weapon. A humorous film titled The Unorganized Manager by John Cleese.[2] The film portrays a manager named Mr. Lewis who is completely unorganized at work and at home. About halfway through the film, Mr. Lewis has a heart attack, dies, and goes to heaven. At the pearly gates, Mr. Lewis rings the doorbell, which plays the "Halleluiah Chorus." St. Peter says that there is no Mr. Lewis due in heaven that day and he must be due at the other place. Mr. Lewis protests that he has always been a good man and has tried to do right. St. Peter shows Mr. Lewis that although he had good intentions, he was so disorganized and managed his time so poorly, both at work and at home, that he could not let Mr. Lewis in. Mr. Lewis begs for a second chance. St. Peter then coaches Mr. Lewis on how to better manage his time.

This well-made and humorous film got the audience's attention. The audience was thinking about time management and not, at least for the time being, about the murder mystery. Sean knew that he was now at a crucial point in his presentation. If he talked to the parents first, he would likely not get the children to participate. So he asked the children to rate from, A to F, Mr. Lewis's ability to manage time. There was a resounding chorus of Fs raising from their sweet voices. One of the boys seemed to be particularly vocal, so Sean asked him to rate his father on time management at home, thinking that he would say A, A-, or B+. Instead he said, "C-." You could have heard a pin drop in the room.

His father, like all the members in the Young Presidents Organization had to have started or become president of his or her own companies before the age of 39. Members also had to employ 50 employees and gross $5 million annually. In front of his peers, this young man had just called his father a ‘C-’ father. Sean learned an important lesson. Never ask a question in public that could potentially embarrass a member of your audience.

After the presentation, Sean walked up to the father to apologize and to state that it was not his intention to embarrass him. The father said that it was all right. He looked Sean in the eye and said that he had just received some very painful but important feedback. He said, "My son is 9 years old and he could easily leave our home by the time he is 18 or 19, and I did not want my son leaving home thinking that he had a ‘C-’ father."

This is an example of salient feedback. Salient feedback is feedback that is so personally meaningful that we actually change our behavior. We live in a feedback-rich world. Effective presenters systematically harvest that feedback, both at home and at work. Subsequent chapters cover techniques to get salient feedback on what we do well and on ways we can improve our ability to present to both homogeneous and heterogeneous audiences. It also points out the crucial importance of knowing how homogeneous or heterogeneous your audience will be and planning your presentation accordingly.

4. The Fatigue Level of the Audience

Always try to anticipate the fatigue level of your audience. Take this into account when you are planning your presentation. Sean had more than a couple of hurdles to leap when he was scheduled to speak in front of a potentially fatigued audience in a 4:30 p.m. time slot on a perfect summer day. Worse, he was up against an international buskers (street performers) festival being held in the same city at the same time. Not a pretty picture. Luckily, as one participant said, "The presentation was interactive, humorous, and dynamic. The topic was engaging enough that he won us over."

Suffice to say, you have to take the fatigue level of your audience into account when planning your presentation. Other instances when you are likely to have a fatigued audience is an after-dinner speech - especially if alcohol is served - and the first session in the morning after an evening's partying or banquet. Also, the first slot right after a large lunch can be tough.

5. The Mood of the Audience

The mood of the audience has a major effect on your presentation. Sometimes you will know that there are extenuating circumstances that are beyond your control and you will have to adapt your presentation accordingly. Other times, you will receive no warning as illustrated in the following example.

One of the presenters we interviewed reported having to face participants who were in one of the ugliest moods he had ever encountered in 20 years of training.

I was asked to do a workshop on Resiliency and Change Management for a campus of a community college. It turned out that that particular campus was going to be closed and the news had been leaked to the participants the day before the workshop was to take place. Some of the programs were to move to another campus, some of the programs would be closed down because they were available at other community colleges in other parts of the state.

The participants were furious not only with the decision, but how it was made. They had not been consulted and they felt strongly that the programs that were scheduled to be closed were both viable and vital for their community. And I can tell you categorically, they were in no mood for a workshop on Resiliency and Change Management.

The only thing to do was to scrap the workshop. I might lose credibility with the college that hired me and I might not get paid, but I valued my life above both of these things. As the main issue was that they felt that they had not been consulted, I spent the morning working as a facilitator and they decided that the best thing to do was to write a letter to the president of the college expressing their wishes for a more participatory process and developing options on what they could do to prevent these programs from closing. I went from being a villain to a hero and I even got paid for the workshop, because we used resiliency and change management techniques to help the participants gain more control in a situation where they felt they had none.

From that experience and similar ones, we have learned to ask ahead of time whether there is anything going on in the organization that we should be aware of. Often people will clue you in, sometimes they won't, and sometimes there is a last-minute change in circumstances that takes place and you simply have to roll with the punches.

6. The Attendees' Learning Style

It is especially important to know the learning style of those who are attending your presentation. Knowing the predominant style of the group and how to communicate with attendees whose style is the same as and different from your own is one of the key characteristics of very good presenters. One of the best ways to determine learning style is the TRAP model, which was developed by Peter Honey and Alan Mumford.[3] According to the TRAP model, there are four primary learning styles: theorists, reflectors, activists, and pragmatists. The authors summarize each of these styles:

Theorists. Theorists adapt and integrate their observations into complex but logically sound theories. They think problems through in a vertical, step-by-step logical way. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories. They tend to be perfectionists who won't rest until things are tidy ... They like to analyze and synthesize ...

[Theorists] are keen on basic assumptions, principles, theories, models and systems thinking. Questions they frequently ask are: "Does it make sense?" "How does this fit with that?" They tend to be detached, analytical and dedicated to rational objectivity rather than anything subjective or ambiguous ... They prefer to maximize certainty and feel uncomfortable with the subjective ...

Reflectors. Reflectors like to stand back to ponder experience and observe it from many different perspectives. They collect data, both first hand and from others, and prefer to [consider] it thoroughly before coming to any conclusions ... Their philosophy is to be cautious, to leave no stone unturned. [To] "look before they leap" ...

[Reflectors] prefer to take a back seat in meetings and discussions. They [observe and listen] to others [and] ... get the drift of the discussion before making their own points. They tend to adopt a low profile and have a slightly distant, tolerant, unruffled air about them. When they act it is as part of a wide picture [that] includes the past, as well as the present and others' observations as well as their own.

Activists. Activists involve themselves fully ... They enjoy the here and now and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences. They are open-minded ... and enthusiastic ... Their philosophy is "I'll try anything once ... " Their days are filled with activity [and they love] ... short-term crisis fire fighting.

[Activists tend to] tackle problems by brainstorming. As soon as the excitement from one activity has died down they are looking for the next. They tend to thrive on challenge and new experiences but are bored with implementation and longer-term consolidation ... [They tend to be] ... the life and soul of the party and seek to be the center of attention.

Pragmatists. Pragmatists are keen on trying out ideas, theories, and techniques to see if they work in practice ... [They] ... search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications. They ... return from courses brimming with new ideas that they want to try out in practice.

[Pragmatists] like to get on with things and act quickly and confidently on ideas that attract them. They don't like "beating around the bush" and tend to be impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussions. They are practical, down to earth people who like making practical decisions and solving problems. They respond to problems [as opportunities]. Their philosophy is: "There is always a better way" and "If it works, it's good."

How to use the TRAP model to improve the effectiveness of your own training will be demonstrated in the following example.

Some groups will be made up almost entirely of action-oriented pragmatists. If you do not know how to tailor your presentation to this group you may encounter problems similar to Brad's experience in the following situation.

Sean has taught a negotiation course to many groups of truck tire sales staff. If the information being presented was not directly related to how they could sell more tires, he would lose his audience because they could make better use of their time selling "in the real world." For the most part, they had little, if any tolerance for theory, and did not like to reflect. They were action- and results-oriented and if the workshop/seminar did not relate to their needs, they communicated their dissatisfaction in no uncertain terms.

As a result, Sean reduced the theory to almost nil and focused on action-oriented/results-oriented activities. The part of the workshop that they appreciated the most was how to deal with killer clients - those tough clients that you just can't seem to get very far with no matter what you do - and Sean asked them to submit these as case studies. The best case had to do with a potential client who was totally uninterested in trying one workshop participant's truck tires. The participant thought that this was because the potential client was receiving a personal kickback from the competition's sales staff, although he had no direct proof.

The whole class brainstormed creative options for the workshop participant to try. Eventually they came up with two options that had a very good chance of working. Solution 1: One of the other workshop participants knew the owner and would put a bug in his ear. Solution 2: This participant's company bought their gasoline from the potential client's owner's gas stations, and they would make their continued purchase of gasoline dependent on reciprocal purchase of truck tires. In other words, working on real-life case studies appealed to this group's strong preference for an action-oriented practical learning style. It also perfectly illustrates the need to match one's presentation style to each particular group's learning style. When your presentation style is congruent with the group's learning style, you will have gone a long way toward becoming a sharp, very competent presenter.


Please give a brief example of how you would modify an existing presentation to appeal to each of the four TRAP types:

  1. Theorists.

  2. Reflectors.

  3. Activists.

  4. Pragmatists.

An even bigger challenge is satisfying all four TRAP types in one presentation. If you conscientiously think about satisfying all four types, you will generally give a much better presentation unless you have a preponderance of one or two of the types in your audience. If that is the case, you will have to modify your presentation. Of course, it is much easier if you obtain this type of information beforehand. If not, you will have to modify on the spot as Sean did the first time he worked with the truck tire sales staff.

The best way to satisfy all four types is to have some generic template-type exercises that you know will work with each type. Keep the exercises short. That way, you will be more likely to have an exercise for each type. In Exercise 1-2, you'll learn how to use TRAP to plan for your next presentation or to redo an existing presentation.


Make sure that your presentation covers all of the elements to satisfy all four of the TRAP types. A second useful technique is to ask a friend or colleague to "TRAP proof" or verify that your presentation relates to all four types. Solicit feedback from your participants to see if they are satisfied that you adequately cover all four of the TRAP learning styles: Theorists, Reflectors, Activists, and Pragmatists. Remember, most of us are much better at reaching some of the types than others. In addition, just because you are good at one or more of the types, ask for feedback on how you can improve your skills and abilities to reach the other types as well. Lastly, you can mind-map your presentation on a piece of paper or flip chart. Then using four different colors, color everything in red that would appeal to Theorists, blue that would appeal to Reflectors, green for Activists, and black for Pragmatists. This way, if any one group is over-represented or under-represented, it will stand out.

In this chapter we covered the importance of knowing your audience and then aligning your presentation to that audience's needs and expectations. Not knowing your audience and aligning your presentation to that audience's needs and expectation will not only waste your time and theirs, it can also lead to embarrassment at best and to career-limiting moves at worst, as the following example from a famous radio and television personality, who requested anonymity, illustrates:

I was asked to emcee a charity event for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and at the last minute they asked if I would also be the auctioneer. While I don't do that for a living, I occasionally serve in that capacity. When the auction started, I rushed up onto the stage. The first item was a package of dinner including a limo ride to and from an exclusive restaurant - for eight people. The bids were pushing a thousand bucks ... and I blurt out: "Hey, this is the vintage restaurant, folks, not some Burger King!" A hush fell over the crowd. Who turned out to be sponsoring the event? Yep. Burger King.

Now that you know the importance of and how to know your audience and align your presentation to their expectations and needs, we turn our attention to how premier presenters prepare outstanding content.

Westside Toastmasters on Meetup

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