The Basic Principle of Oral Presentation

The Basic Principle of Oral Presentation: Know your listeners and adapt your message

You are 100% prepared for your oral presentation. Now, the only thing worrying you is if your audience will find it interesting. That’s where the #1 rule of public speaking comes in.

Know your audience and adapt your message to them.

It won’t matter how stunning your graphics are and on-target your talk is if you don’t cater to your audience. The message intended, will not be the message received. Audience, consumers, clients, or customers. It doesn’t matter what you call them, you must take the time to know them and tailor your presentation to them.


Know the demographics of your audience, such as age and gender. What’s the age group: Recent college grads entering the jobmarket? Or highschool seniors trying to understand the pitfalls of student loans? Will you be speaking to one gender or both?

Here are other helpful demographic indicators:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Occupation
  • Income
  • Education
  • Race, ethnicity, or cultural background
  • Political beliefs
  • Religion

Part of knowing your audience is knowing how well versed they are in your topic. Say your presentation is on “The Playgrounds of California’s Sea Otter.” Your two audiences are fifth graders on an annual field trip to the aquarium and a visiting group of marine biology scholars observing animal behavior. Do you give the same presentation? No, of course not.

Think about the differences in information those two groups already have. Surely your terminology and complexity of graphics will differ for each group as will your talk. You can expect different belief systems from them, as well as levels of enthusiasm, attention spans, purpose for attending, and so on.

Public speaking or presenting information is a big responsibility. Someone reading a book opts when, where, and for how long to focus; a presenter is tasked with keeping the audience’s attention focused. Readers can speed through a novel or cover a textbook in a slow and methodical manner; a presenter controls the pace. Readers can flip back and re-read, while an audience must stay with the presenter. (Though, more and more, presenters are sharing their talks via digital media.) Typically, text is prepared with graphic cues indicating order and importance – bullet lists, paragraph order, and italics to name a few – an audience depends on the speaker to relay that information verbally, which explains the significance accompanying graphics play in a presentation.

Being nervous is expected. Relax, you’re normal.

Most people, some statistics say 75%, feel uncomfortable speaking in public. Reasons vary, but they aren’t important. This is the important thing: Sharing your message with the audience and learning together.

Nobody expects you to be perfect. That 75% statistic from above? You can bet many of them are in your audience. They want you to rock your presentation, and they want to learn with you. They are rooting for you. Bet they won’t even notice a stumble or flub, so just fix it and continue on.

Besides, what’s wrong with a little nervousness? It’s much better than a little lethargy. You’ll be more energetic, animated, and more likely to engage the audience. If you’re finding your nervousness a bit much, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can help. (They work! Really. Try them.)

To recap, in order to make the best possible presentation, you need to understand your audience and tweak your story to reach them right at their level. Those who understand their audience and adjust their presentation to them make the best public speakers and presenters.

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