There are times when I also do mess up on stage. For example, I often talk about the importance of determining who your audience is beforehand. I know that. And yet, I also sometimes drop the ball.
Recently I gave a presentation about water. It’s an entertaining presentation on a topic that almost no one knows anything about. People brush their teeth using water that comes out of their faucet, but really have no idea where that water comes from.
I specifically geared the show towards an audience that is interested in the world around them. By the end of the presentation, everyone is sure to look at the water in their glass in a different way.
At one point, I was invited to present my talk at an event organized by Vlakwa, The Flemish Water Knowledge Centre. Of course I was interested! I didn’t ask the organization more details about the audience because I thought I knew enough.
It was the day of my presentation
I waited outside the room for a short while, as the entire group was still attending a meeting about water management.
Then it slowly dawned on me: each of the people in the room were experts. And not just any experts, but thé domain experts: these were the heads of drinking water companies and the researchers whom I had interviewed for my water book. The people who together ensure that water flows out of your and my taps day and night.
And there I was on the other side of the door, with my compelling presentation on the topic of where the water in your tap comes from.
I had misjudged my audience
Of course I was able to share with them new pieces of information. About interesting innovations that I had discovered while researching for my book, for instance. Those talking points were included in my presentation, but the main focus was on the question, ‘Where does the water in your tap come from?’ A question that the experts in that room could answer without batting an eye.
And those experts make you feel insecure
Do you recognize that feeling? You wondering whether your content is interesting enough for them. Should I be more nuanced? Provide more information? Demonstrate that I know more than what I’m sharing? And did I just see one of those expert shake his head disapprovingly?
But at that point, keep in mind that those feelings are largely unfounded. What you have is a compelling presentation that is well put together. Yes, perhaps much of what I was saying was par for the course with this audience, but they still had it presented to them in a manner they weren’t used to. At the very least, they picked up on a communication approach that they could take back to their institutions. And I’m sure they were intrigued from time to time as well.
People were enthusiastic afterwards. And so was I. But of course that was easier said after the fact.
Going in to the presentation, I had felt extremely insecure. And that forced me to face the facts once again: Know your audience, Toon. Never loose sight of that.