Are You Getting in Your Own Way? The Subtle Art of Putting Your Audience First

Don’t picture your audience in their underwear.

You’ve probably heard this age-old piece of advice aimed at calming your nerves and lightening your demeanor for a presentation.

The problem is – other than the mental pictures you really don’t want to have – you don’t want to distance yourself from the audience. Picturing Joe from sales in his tighty-whiteys isn’t going to get you where you want to go.


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You’re there for your audience, so respect them!

An effective presentation requires you to maintain a certain level of comfort and give-and-take with those to whom you’re speaking.

Here are some aspects of public speaking to consider. The bonus? They allow your audience to remain fully clothed.

Remember your purpose

Figuring out who your audience is and why they’re there are crucial elements for you to base your actions and purpose on.

This is what you should be focused on:

  • Who? Are you speaking to executives, senior citizens, or school children?
  • Why? Is this audience there because they’re required to be or was attendance optional and they’re just excited to learn? Your presentation should be engaging enough to draw in even the most reluctant learners.
  • What do they want? Are they looking for fresh new ideas? Do they need to come away with actionable steps?
  • When? Timing is important. Is it after lunch, when everyone will be struggling to keep their eyes open? Is it right before dinner, when you’ll be competing with grumbling bellies? Is it after a particularly dry training session?
  • How to reach them? Your improv skills allow you to tailor your presentation to whoever is in your audience. The ability to turn on a dime is key. One group will respond well to funny anecdotes, while another may be more interested in hearing facts and figures.  

Understanding your audience members’ state of mind, expectations, and their physical state can help you rock your presentation.



“Everything you do for a presentation should be driven by your audience: their needs and responses



Read your audience

Once you’ve got an understanding of the people you’re speaking to, you should be gauging their reactions to your speech.

It may seem silly, but here’s a quick snapshot of what an engaged audience member looks like:

  • They’re making eye contact with you.
  • They’re nodding.
  • They’re leaning forward.

What if the opposite is true and you notice a lot of glazed-over expressions, yawns, and fidgeting?

Do you say you need to use the restroom, hop in your car, and get the heck outta there?

You may feel like it!

But there’s a better way to handle an audience whose interest is flagging.

Remember: the ability to change midstream is invaluable. You’re there to serve the needs of your audience and not your own!

So, what can you do to shift your behavior and reconnect with your audience?

  • Ask for a quick survey of hands. “How many of you have heard this research before?”
  • Ask for comments. “Now that we’ve covered the technique, could someone from accounting share an example of this method in action?”
  • Ask them to make a decision as a group. “I have two more models to cover and a case study. Which do you want to hear first?

That quickly and easily, you’ve re-forged that connection.

The wrap-up

Keep the focus on your purpose – why is your audience there? What do they need to get from you? Gauge reactions and adjust your methods as necessary to keep the audience engaged.

Remember, your job is to make connections with your audience. It’s all about them!

Make necessary adjustments in your presentation and in your environment to provide the best and most effective experience for those to whom you’re speaking.

This article is 100% written by a human named Karen Hough. She is the Founder & CEO of ImprovEdge, in the top 4% of women-owned businesses in the US, a 3-time Amazon bestselling author, Yale grad, wife and mom of three.