Presentation Skills: Know Your Audience

The ability to present is the ability to change and affect the opinion of others without forcing your opinion on them.

Persuasion and presentation skills depend mainly on how well you know your audience. 

The more you know about the audience, the more effect you can have on them

This article will show you how you can better understand your audience so that you can present more effectively.

Audience knowledge is a key skill covered in our public speaking courses too!

What Do We Mean By Know Your Audience?

“It is understanding that gives us an ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow’s viewpoint, and he understands ours, then we can sit down and work out our differences.” Harry S. Truman

Knowing your audience makes you better able to connect with them. 

It means that you know enough about their values, backgrounds, and beliefs to understand what matters to them.

The more you learn about your audience, the better you can plan communication. You will be able to speak to them in terms of what matters to them. 

In this context, an audience can mean a group you are speaking to or just one person you will be interacting with.

To understand more about your audience, start by asking yourself the following questions:


  • How much does my audience know about this topic?
  • What do I need my audience to know and understand?
  • How does this topic impact my audience?
  • How does this topic impact the organisation that my audience works for?


  • How well does my audience know me? Have you already built rapport with them in a one to one meeting?
  • What does my audience have in common with me, and where do we differ?
  • What type(s) of people is/are my audience?
  • What types of culture does the organisation that my audience works for have?

Why Is Knowing Your Audience Important?

Knowing your audience allows you to understand what is important to them and focus on that. 

It allows you to speak to them in their language and about what matters to them. 

Everyone is different. We all have different personalities and different experiences. This makes us value different things in different ways. 

Something that one person thinks is crucial, another person might not be worried about.

Think of the differences between people when buying a car. 

Some people value speed, some luggage space and some a great stereo.

None of these people are ‘wrong’. It is just that they are looking for slightly different things from a car. 

If you are someone who wants a car with lots of luggage space, it’s unhelpful if the salesperson speaks at length about how fast it is and how great its stereo is. 

All of that is fine, but you want to know about the luggage space first and foremost!

5 Ways To Assess What Your Audience Thinks

So how do you assess what your audience thinks?

Before the meeting, you will need to do some research and some thinking to try to put yourself in their shoes. 

1. Prior Experience:

Prior experience is probably the number 1 factor driving an audience’s behaviour. 

If they had problems the last time that they dealt with your subject, expect them to be wary. 

As the old saying goes: “Once bitten twice shy”.

Conversely, if things went well, they will probably be enthusiastic.

2. Self-interest:

Think through how they might see the situation? 

What concerns might they have? Where might they see benefits accruing to them?

People engage with things on the basis of their self-interest. 

If you can present a win-win outcome to your audience, they will be far more likely to say yes.

3. Personality Traits:

Personality traits make a big difference to people’s approach. 

If they are curious, expect them to ask lots of questions and be ready with answers. 

If they are impatient, make sure you get straight to the point. 

Similarly, organisations have certain personalities. Some organisations value certainty and lack of risk. If someone works for this type of organisation, expect them to look for certainty and lack of risk in what you are proposing. Other organisations are very data-driven, in which case using reason to influence them is the right strategy.

4. References:

If you know someone that knows your audience well, ask how they would approach things and what they have learned from past interactions.

People and organisations don’t tend to change that much, and so knowing their past behaviour is a strong indicator of how they might behave in future.

5. Level Of Knowledge

How much does your audience actually know about what you would like to discuss? 

They may know little or nothing about it. In which case, the only views they will have will be what they have picked up from other people. 

They may know lots already. 

Present to them at the right level of expertise. 

Marching experts through the basics is a waste of time. Presenting at an expert level to beginners is guaranteed to lose them. 

Neither achieves what you want to achieve.

3 Common Mistakes When Trying To Understand Your Audience

There are a few mistakes that lots of people make when they want to present to people. 

1. Not knowing the bigger picture:

If you don’t know the broader context, you may well miss some vital aspects of the situation.

Many people focus so tightly on the minutiae of exactly where they want to get to that they don’t pause to consider the broader context enough.

A classic example of this can be trying to present to your boss and manage upwards. You don’t know all the competing issues your boss is juggling. So don’t push your ideas too hard, remember you don’t know the whole story.

2. Lack of organisation and logical order:

If you throw your ideas out without any logical order, you will lose your audience’s attention. 

Organise your ideas logically so that they can follow your reasoning the whole way and hopefully reach the same conclusion as you!

3. Boring your audience:

Get to the point! People have short attention spans. 

When people are nervous, sometimes they don’t get to the point. They sort of circle around it.

This is terrible for the audience. 

They don’t know where the discussion is going or what you are trying to achieve and will get bored.

They will switch off, and you will have lost them.


The key to successful communication is understanding your audience. Before you get into a meeting or a presentation, prepare yourself by understanding your audience.

During the meeting, you will need to listen carefully to your audience to assess where you were right and where you were wrong, but going into the meeting with a carefully constructed idea of your audience will always put you at an advantage. 

Image source: Pexels, Pexels.


About Ben Richardson

Ben is a director of Acuity Training which he has been running for over 10 years.

He is a Natural Sciences graduate from the University of Cambridge and a qualified accountant with the ICAEW.

He previously worked as a venture capitalist and banker and so had extensive experience with Excel from building financial models before moving to learn SQL, Microsoft Power BI and other technologies more recently.