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My husband is a scientist and I've attended plenty of research presentations with him. The most painful ones have been delivered by speakers outside of the particular research field. I've seen people complain as they walk out of the presentation, while others are too fast asleep to even stand up. while others are too fast asleep to even stand up. It's not that the guest speakers didn't have interesting material, the problem is that they didn't consider the crucial difference of communication style. If you want to engage your audience, here are communication style differences to keep in mind.
Forest vs. Trees. Does your audience want the big general picture, the forest? Or do they like to delve into the details, the trees? Executive teams generally don't want to be bogged down with the details, but you need to check before you make that assumption. Traditionally, you should present the big idea first and then proceed into details, if they're expected. Culturally, some groups like to get into specifics and be looking into detailed charts as the speaker is presenting.
Other groups prefer to see the big picture first, how it ties to the mission of the organization and they have access to next steps, if necessary. Formal or not. All companies have their own internal levels of formality. If you're presenting inside your company, you will know your audience and if appropriate, you can be a little less formal, if that's accepted. When you're not sure, be more formal in your interactions, your speaking style or even your non-verbals.
It's never a bad idea. You can always read the level of formality by spending some time with people from the organization before your presentation. Not only does this decrease your anxiety levels as a speaker, but it also allows you to know the appropriate level of formality to use when you're presenting. Interruptions or not. Knowing this detail about your audience can make or break your delivery day. If the norm for presentations is a two-way conversation with questions being asked intermittently, the speaker needs to know and plan for that.
If the audience likes to ask questions during the presentation, you should plan for frequent check-ins and encourage this conversation. Arrange your slides so that you can access information quickly. It's so much easier to work with an audience who will hold their questions for the Q&A section. Now, be sure to clarify that before you start speaking in front of them. Facts or Emotion. Some audiences like information that quickly gets to the point. In those cases, you might want to start with a startling fact that directly relates to the "so what" of the company.
Some direct communication cultures, Northern Europe, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia prefer this style of communication. So you need to adapt your presentation design to meet it. In indirect communication cultures, for example, in Southern Europe, in South America, the Middle East and Asia, it may be appropriate to start with a story, a piece of history or even a local fable that directly ties to the main point of the presentation. This approach is considered more of an emotional one.
Even if you're used to presenting the facts and you find yourself in front of an indirect audience, be ready to flex. Now, last note on communication style involves language. If you're presenting to a non-native English-speaking audience, simplify your language. Avoid using acronyms, idioms, casual expressions or colloquialisms. Pace yourself a little more than you would for an English-speaking audience Be sure your pronunciation of certain words is clear.
Remember, that with any audience your best bet is to ask questions and do your research early on. If you miss the mark on audience communication style, your credibility is at stake. Consider these four themes and you will be more prepared than any of the well-meaning but ineffective speakers I have experienced.
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