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Communication

Presentation Skills: Prior Knowledge

April 16, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Presentation Skills

In considering audience knowledge on a subject or topic to be presented, there are four issues to consider:

  • Is the broad context of the presentation likely to be understood?
  • Is the subject familiar?
  • Does the subject require special knowledge to understand it?
  • Is the level of knowledge/understanding in the audience widely varied or broadly equivalent?

The above issues generate many combinations in terms of audience knowledge and experience of your topic. Hence, delivering a presentation on brain neurology to an audience of first year medical students with a range of different levels of understanding, may need a lot of contextual or “big picture” information. In addition, in being relatively unfamiliar with the topic, the audience may require support in understanding some of the terms and language introduced. Conversely, a presentation on basic first-aid to the same group would require little contextual setting and is likely to be understood even with a diverse level of experience in the audience.

Quite apart from any prior knowledge that the audience may have had, every attendee to your presentation will bring with them a disposition or “angle” on what they expect to hear (and what they actually hear). It may be that the information is expected to be confirmatory of an existing view, or mere reinforcement. On the other hand, they may see it as controversial or running against their own views (directly or indirectly). While you cannot possibly get inside everyone’s head, you can help yourself greatly by making an assessment of the group’s likely general disposition. The following questions can help to do this:

  • Is the information sensitive?
  • Is the information controversial?
  • Will the presentation alienate any people (directly or indirectly)?
  • Will the presentation be argumentative?

All of the above will create a different audience mood. The aim is to guess what this might be and to adjust your presentation accordingly.

Assessments of past knowledge and likely disposition will be insignificant compared to the level of interest that your audience will have in the content of the presentation – not at the detail level but in terms of what it may do for them. Research has shown that over 90% of your audience will want to derive some personal or individual benefit from your talk in order to appreciate it. This is often called the “WIIFM” factor or “What’s in it for me” factor. If the WIIFM factor is so significant, our task as presenters is to offer a range of attention-grabbing benefits to our audience, one or more of which will hopefully act to convince them that their time spent listening will be worthwhile. In basic terms this means telling your audience explicitly what they are likely to get out of your talk.

The featured video clip is drawn from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder Presentation Skills Video Vignette Set.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at OptimalJon@gmail.com

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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