Presenting Data: Know Your Audience


presentation-audienceWhen you’re presenting or explaining data, knowing your audience isn’t an option. If you want to effectively communicate with them and make sure they’re really understanding the information you’ve gathered, you need to get on their level.

Of course, saying you’re getting on their level and actually getting on it can be two completely different things. Prior to any kind of data presentation, publication, or explanation, it’s imperative that you do a little bit of investigative work.

Step 1: Identify your target audience

If you’re giving an actual presentation of some sort, this step needs to go beyond a list of names. Find out what the people on that list do and why they would care about your data. Regardless of whether the data is being presented or published, though, you still need to identify your audience. That’s how you tailor the information. Dig deeper by asking yourself the following questions to help you identify your target audience:

  • In what industry does my audience work?
    • Narrow this down as far as possible. For example: Marketing → online marketing → social media marketing → social media account managers.
    • Consider the breakdown in terms of small, medium, and large business. Certain data might be more relevant to a large enterprise than it will be a small business.
  • What positions do people in my audience hold?
    • Think: C-Suite, middle management, entry-level, etc.
  • What level of education does my audience hold?
    • Also consider which degrees your audience has. People who are wired for math and science will understand data in a completely different way than people who have studied in the more creative humanities fields. This breaks down to left-brain/right-brain.
  • In what geographic location does my audience reside?
    • Above all, knowing this helps you tailor your presentation. If you’re presenting to a bunch of suburban housewives, conveying your information in a way that would better appeal to a rural farmer won’t create any connection for them.

Step 2: Understand your audience

Understanding your audience means applying some psychological and sociological principles. If you want to present data in a way that makes sense to them, or if you want to target a specific audience in published reports, it’s important to learn about who they are.

  • What are the major issues facing my audience?
    • What are their biggest pain points?
    • What questions keep them up at night?
  • What information would help them to better perform their jobs?
  • What information do they want to know?
  • How can I explain things in terms that make sense to them?
    • For this one, look back at who they are, what they do, where, how, when, and why they do it.

Step 3: The Presentation

Whether it’s an actual presentation at a conference, a boardroom meeting in which you present your findings, or a publication of some sort, use the information from the first two steps to help you tailor your data presentation.

  • If you’re dealing with a high-level audience who will understand the terminology, feel free to go into more depth as you explain the data.
  • If your audience is mixed or might not understand the concepts you’re presenting, make sure to speak in layman’s terms. Avoid using jargon when possible, and make sure to explain the data using terms and examples to which the audience can relate.
  • Mix visuals in with your presentation. While some people can comprehend facts and figures just fine aurally, others will better understand by seeing the analytics presented visually. Be sure to explain any data visualizations that might not be immediately clear to the audience.
  • Connect the information being presented to its real world applications. How can the audience use this information on a regular basis? Cite examples based on the kind of work they do and other details specific to them.

Pay close attention to that last bullet. It’s the big one! Without a way to apply the material, the data will remain isolated information for a lot of people. You might help them win a round of trivia at the pub sometime, but they might not fully understand how the data applies to them in their everyday work lives.

The long and the short of it is this: if you don’t know your audience, it’s nearly impossible to reach them. Data and analytics can be complicated – the concepts, the information, even the process by which you found them – so it’s important that you’re able to convey all that in as simple terms as possible. If you want your audience to get the most out of your data presentation, you must give the findings some practical application; show them why they should care and how this information affects them. You can’t reach an audience you don’t know. And if you don’t reach them, your data presentation falls on deaf ears. When that happens, too much of everyone’s time is wasted all around. Don’t be that presenter.

I’m going to leave you with this SlideShare presentation from Altimeter because I think it exemplifies the concept of knowing your audience nicely. Given the thorough explanations throughout, we can deduce that this particular presentation was created with a specific audience in mind, though one that might hold a range of knowledge. To bridge those gaps, Altimeter starts to corral everyone and get them on the same page pretty early on in the presentation. Additionally, given the description of the presentation provided by Susan Etlinger, we know that Altimeter researched the audience and knew exactly who it was presenting to.

A Framework for Social Analytics from Susan Etlinger

How do you tailor your data presentations to your audience? What steps do you take to learn as much as possible about them beforehand so that you can help them to apply that information? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! 

image credit: Leanne W. Smith

About the author: Renee is a freelance writer and the managing editor for Business 2 Community. She currently resides in Central Pennsylvania (whatever you’ve heard is probably true) and continues to pursue her dream of once again renting her own apartment – preferably in Philadelphia – if only to house her ever-growing collection of books. She received a BA in English from Susquehanna University and an MA in English from George Mason.