Why Cross-Audience Presentations Are Necessary

Cross-Audience Presentations

What are cross-audience presentations? They sound intimidating, but really, they’re not. It’s just how I describe presentations that can easily be adapted for a new target audience without a lot of reorganization/redesign and new slide creation. Let’s look at the two typical presentation-creation approaches:

Fully-Custom Presentations

In the past, I’ve worked with a client who would have to present the same ten decks/concepts to over 100 different organizations around the country each year. He was a fantastic public speaker, truly engaging and powerful on the stage. But I kept getting feedback from the organizations that his presentations seemed ill-prepared, stilted and awkward. I couldn’t figure out what was going on until I leaned in a little and realized out what was happening. The night before each new keynote he would recreate the deck for the new audience – rearranging slides and often creating entirely new slides.

Last minute deck revisions are problematic for a few reasons:

1. Inconsistent Design

Last minute changes to a deck that has been carefully crafted result in an inconsistent design. The visuals are usually off but the design of the story is totally borked too! Slides become repetitive and disorganized.

2. Inauthentic Story

Delivering your presentation with an authentic story is so critical. When you add a bunch of slides or evidence to make a presentation speak more specifically to a target audience you often introduce inauthenticity. What does that mean? It means that you seem like you’re pandering. If your story is appropriate for the audience, the evidence that you’ve so carefully collected should speak to them. If you have to fill in the gaps with a lot of new information or evidence you’re probably on the wrong stage.

3. Confusion

Last minute changes confuse you, as the presenter, but also your audience. If you’ve thrown a lot of last minute slides into your deck five hours before you stand on a stage to deliver, I can guarantee that you won’t know your slides well enough. You’ll stumble and you’ll end up reading slides. When you read slides you get confused and you lose your audience.

There are last minute tweaks that need to happen to decks, but it shouldn’t be a complete rework of your material each time you engage a new audience.

One-Size-Fits All Presentations

The flip side of this constant customization manifests in the creation of a single presentation that gives no consideration to audience. It’s so tempting to create “one-size-fits-all” presentations that we can reuse over and over again. Admit it, you’ve used the same presentation for new staff training that you use for your veteran workers. If you were to really stop and think about it, I’m sure very few of you would approach a presentation intended for a room full of fellow professors in the same way that you would present a presentation to a room full of interns. And yet many of us do it constantly…we have to.

Why do we do it? It’s convenient and efficient. But is it?

I worked with a client to create a presentation to sell poker rooms on new poker tracking software. It was a solid sales deck that highlighted benefits over features. It had proven to be really effective at getting new rooms to sign. He decided it was so effective that he was going to use it to get end-users interested in the product. He started pulling out the presentation (again, intended for business customers) at the poker table to get other players to download his app. The presentation included things like the average amount of money that a poker room makes off a player in an hour – definitely information that you don’t want to put in front of a customer. This is like telling me what you put into my hot dogs. I just don’t want to know!

When you go this route, reusing presentations regardless of audience, you neglect one of the most fundamental components of a good presentation – audience targeting. And if you aren’t speaking to your audience your presentation won’t be effective (to put it in bluntly). The importance of your audience cannot be stressed enough and yet is often the last thing people consider when creating a presentation.

Cross-Audience Presentations 

So how do we have our cake and eat it to? If we’re constantly presenting the same material how do we craft a pitch that doesn’t need continuous custom tailoring? Here are some tips for creating a flexible cross-audience presentation that still considers audience targeting but saves you time.

  1. Know your audience – who are the potential audiences for your presentation? Think of all the possible people that you might give your presentation to and figure out the best way to address your message to them.
  2. Articulate your purpose clearly – what are you trying to accomplish with the presentation? New business clients or investment money? If the purposes you define are wildly different you’re probably looking at multiple decks.
  3. Identify concepts within the presentation that need to be omitted/included or explained differently based on who’s in the room.

At a high-level that’s what a cross-audience presentation does. I’ll be covering the how to’s of creating and repurposing presentations in a future post.

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