Who is the hero of your technical presentation?

When you walk into a presentation, are you hoping to get some e-mails or other work done? Maybe. But this plan is typically a fallback in case you aren’t engaged in the presentation topic. Instead, you’re probably hoping to get something out of it. 

When listening to any technical presentation, audiences—whether consciously or unconsciously—are asking these two questions:

 “What’s in it for me?”

“Why should I sit here and listen to you?”

As technical presenters, we often forget the audience even exists. As engineers with a reputation for delivering “data dump” presentations, we focus on our slides, our agenda, our detailed subject matter and our extensive experience. And when it’s all about us, it can’t be about the audience.

Of course, it can be painful or uncomfortable to stand in front of strangers and present, and we often wish we hadn’t been asked or directed to do so. We may just want to get through it. But when this feeling is transferred to the audience, it is even more painful for them. In fact, if you have been on the receiving end, you know how it feels. 

As technical presenters, it is imperative that we start with the audience needs in mind. In other words, don’t start with PowerPoint. Ask, and answer, these two questions—often and continuously.

“What’s in it for my audience?”

“Why should they listen to me?”

If you don’t answer these questions in the first few minutes and continually refer back to them throughout your presentation, you are in effect telling your audience to use their fallback plan of thinking about work, home, life or checking out on their smart phone. In this case, we are the hero of our presentation because we got our checkmark. The audience is left with nothing.

We need to “dump” the “data dump” model and start fresh with a new model—a model we can use to help us engage audiences with meaning rather than just information.

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If you don’t answer these questions in the first few minutes and continually refer back to them throughout your presentation, you are in effect telling your audience to use their fallback plan of thinking about work, home, life or checking out on their smart phone. In this case, we are the hero of our presentation because we got our checkmark. The audience is left with nothing.

We need to “dump” the “data dump” model and start fresh with a new model—a model we can use to help us engage audiences with meaning rather than just information.

And it all starts with the audience—the real hero of your presentation. Your job is to find out who they are, what they need and how they will use your information. Your job is to embrace the role of mentor and make your audience the hero by sharing information that has meaning to them. The better you understand your audience and their needs, the better you connect with them. 

Presentations are an unwritten contract. If you first meet the needs of your audience, they will respond to your requests. If you don’t, then what you want from your audience simply won’t happen.