Audience with different levels of knowledge; Issue #360 March 29, 2016

In my six step RAPIDS approach to planning your presentation, the A is for analyzing your audience. A common question in my customized workshops is how to handle the situation where the audience has varying levels of knowledge about the topic you are speaking about. Some may be experts on the topic, and some may know little. Let me share the tips I give the participants in my workshops.

The challenge with a mixed knowledge level audience is twofold. First, the experts in the room will get turned off if you focus on basic level knowledge. Second, those who are less knowledgeable will get lost if you focus on expert level knowledge. The challenge is how to satisfy both needs while not losing one of the two groups.

The most important consideration is how the audience makeup relates to the goal of the presentation. If you are asking for executives to make a decision and there will be a number of other people also in the room, your focus needs to be on the knowledge level of those making the decision. It is less important whether the information is at the right level for everyone else because the executives are the ones who need the information at their level to make the decision.

If all of the audience needs to follow along, here’s how I suggest you handle it. Start by saying something like, “I want to take five minutes to make sure we are all up to speed on the three key aspects of the topic that we need for the discussions about the future direction we will take.” This phrasing satisfies both groups in the room and will help you have a successful presentation.

For the experts in the room, you have told them that you are only taking a short amount of time, five minutes, to bring everyone up to speed. Now they know that it isn’t going to be a 30 minute teaching session where they will be bored. They also know that you are focusing on the knowledge everyone needs in order to have productive discussions. This means they won’t be frustrated later on with someone not understanding a key topic.

For those less knowledgeable in the room, they know you are going to give them the information they need in order to participate in the discussions. They won’t feel lost later on because of their level of knowledge. They also know that you will focus on just what they need to know, not try to make them an expert in this area. They will feel that they have enough knowledge to contribute later on.

Both groups now know that you expect them to contribute and not use any excuses related to the varying knowledge level of the people in the room. Use the basic structure of: 1) defined short amount of time, 2) small, focused knowledge, 3) why this knowledge is important to the rest of the meeting. You will have both groups ready and equipped to have a successful session.