Colorado State University Journalism and Technical Communication Department member Michel Muraski defined 3 main audiences any writer or presenter will encounter during the course of his or her career. Think of these audience categories as the layers of a cake, becoming more and more dense.

Choose the Right Presentation Narrative for Every Audience

The first layer of the audience cake is the “lay” audience. Their understanding of your presentation topic is like the fondant decorations that embellish a cake – slim to none. So, members will respond best to visuals and descriptive language. Muraski characterizes the “managerial” audience as being information-gatherers. They want to cover every aspect of the presentation topic thoroughly like icing. Finally, the “expert” audience will likely require a large part of your presentation preparation, as the mixing of the cake batter and the baking process commands a baker’s time. They are looking for the dense material, the trends of the industry, the technical components of the content. Although Muraski discussed these audiences in terms of academic writing, the 3 categories apply to the presentation space. Below, we’ve provided example presentation narratives for each audience type:

1. “Lay” audience

Put yourself in this presenter’s shoes. You are a senior vice president of the unit of a company that handles the manufacturing of parts for the machines that produce various sweets for a particular candy company. You are presenting at a trade show where you can confidently assume that the audience knows very little about your business. Here’s the 3 main points the audience will want and you will need them to remember:

  • A notice of immense need sparked our company’s birth
  • We are committed to creating high-quality products and we lead the industry in our field
  • The candy you devour is only possible with our products

The best way to hold the attention of this type of audience, while also providing them with vital information would be through a personal story or more storytelling-focused narrative. For example, we would suggest bringing candy to the trade show and carrying some pieces with you on stage. Open your presentation by describing the manufacturing process that produced that one piece of candy – maybe even naming individual workers from a factory that assisted. Position the audience as the hero of your presentation – as you want them to spread the word about your product. Perhaps even incorporate a visual narrative through the text as well as the design through icons and illustrations of the manufacturing process to illustrate the benefits of your machinery parts and the conflicts they solve so that you can eat candy. Or even start and end the presentation with a consistent story about the factory line worker who recognized a flaw in the system and set out to fix it – the company origin story.

2. “Managerial” audience

You are presenting at an investor gathering where the audience may know basic information about your company and product, but they desire to learn more so that they can make an informed decision on whether to invest in you or not. Here’s the 3 main points you’ll want this audience to leave with:

  • You’ll enjoy having a trustworthy partner with similar values/goals
  • You’ll make money
  • You’ll help provide a benefit to others

A presentation narrative that starts with an introduction to the company – a brief history, value proposition statement, and explanation of the mission or objective – would be ideal for this audience. Before moving forward, spell out the 3 points described above to let the audience know what you will be covering and what they should remember. Include slides that are not necessarily graph-based, but that relay data an investor would want to obtain. Use typography and visuals to highlight these crucial facts and statistics.

3. “Expert” audience

An “expert” audience in this scenario would be found at an internal company-wide quarterly staff meeting. As experts, your audience members don’t need to know your company’s history or value proposition statement. Instead, they are there to see your data and numbers. They want to know how well (or badly) the business performed during the previous quarter. Here’s the 3 main points this audience will hope to garner through your presentation:

  • This is where the company ended up on sales this quarter
  • This is X percent more or less than the previous quarter (and here’s why)
  • These are the next steps we will take to improve and grow the business

Although they go bananas over data, this same audience doesn’t want to be bored to death for 2,3, or 4 hours. Cast yourself in the role of “fixer” for this audience. For example, begin the presentation with a description of the current scenario: “We aren’t hitting numbers. And we haven’t been for months.” Don’t dwell on the introduction to the problem. Fast forward to an outline of the solution: “We are going to streamline the sales process.” Include a chart of the new process, as well as comprehensive data about the time the current process takes and the leads that have been lost due to this lengthy strategy. In the middle of the presentation, get into the nitty gritty of the plan – how will the problem be solved, how long will it take? – and inject a Q&A session towards the end of the talk to demonstrate respect for audience input. Wrap up with an explanation of the goals and the projected benefits the solution(s) could have on the company through data visualizations and reputable research.

As you probably have gathered, not every audience can be treated equally if you expect to have a lasting impact on individuals or if you hope to navigate an issue. For optimal results, avoid copy and pasting the same presentation for every event and every audience. It will only be a disservice to your company, personal brand, and listeners. Need more help crafting the best presentation narrative? Check out the following articles:

What’s Your Story? Uncovering Your Presentation’s Narrative

Presentation Tips for the Millennial Presenter

Presentation Writing Tips: Create a Casual Tone Using Pronouns

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