Presentation Planning: Know your audience

Find your WHO! Blog #2 of a 5-part series guiding you to presentation planning success.

Steve Earl, Executive Director, Product Marketing Practice

Steve Earl

Sep 07, 2023


This is the second blog in a 5-part series on how to plan a presentation. In my previous blog, I introduced a framework for presentation planning called Slide Zero. I called it Slide Zero because it represents the work that needs to be done before you write slide #1 of your presentation. Slide Zero encompasses the WHO, WHY, WHAT, and HOW of your presentation—the crucial starting line prerequisites that are often overlooked. If you haven't read that blog yet, I highly recommend doing so before continuing with this one, as it provides a broader understanding of the Slide Zero framework.

In this blog, we will dive into the first element of the framework: the WHO.

By focusing on the WHO, you can shift your presentation from being product-centric to audience-centric, resulting in more impactful and targeted delivery. It's essential to have a clear understanding of who you are presenting to. Your presentation must consider the audience, their context, the stage of the buying process they are in, and the presenter's style. Let's explore each of these aspects in detail.

The first aspect of the WHO is your AUDIENCE.

The number one rule of marketing is to know your audience, and the more specific you can be, the better. It's common for presentations to be delivered in front of a mixed audience, such as at a conference with attendees from various roles, or in a boardroom with representatives from different departments. In these situations, challenge yourself and your stakeholders to prioritize the roles of the people in the audience.

Recognize that the business priorities of each may be different, for example, the head of IT will differ greatly from those of the CFO. While everyone in the room is important, forcing yourself to rank the audience members from highest to lowest priority allows you to hyper-focus your message. In a boardroom presentation, for example, the budget owner is likely the primary target audience, even though there may be influencers and end users present. By prioritizing your audience, you can tailor your message more effectively.

Additionally, consider the vertical industry to which your audience belongs. Whether it's healthcare, financial services, technology, or any other industry, messaging and images are most effective when they align with the language and nuances of that specific industry. Understanding the industry context allows you to create a slide deck that resonates more deeply with your audience.

By paying attention to the composition of your audience, their priorities, and the industry they belong to, you can refine your presentation to deliver a targeted and impactful message.

The second aspect to consider of the WHO is CONTEXT.

It's important to determine where your presentation will be delivered. Will it be an executive keynote, a conference room meeting, or a technical workshop? The context in which your presentation will be delivered will have a significant impact on the content, pace, and level of detail provided.

The venue and setting of the presentation can shape the overall approach. For example, if it's an executive keynote, the content may need to be high-level, strategic, and focused on capturing the attention and inspiring the audience. On the other hand, a conference room meeting might require a more detailed and interactive presentation that addresses specific questions and concerns of the attendees.

It's worth noting that presentations created for specific contexts may not always be suitable for other settings. For instance, a keynote presentation tailored for an executive may not be appropriate for a salesperson delivering in a conference room. Keynotes often involve unique slides and are designed specifically for the purpose and style of the presenter.

Understanding the context in which your presentation will take place allows you to customize the content, delivery pace, and level of detail to best meet the needs and expectations of your audience. By building your presentation with the specific context in mind, you can enhance its effectiveness and relevance.

The next aspect to consider of the WHO is STYLE.

As a product marketer, you often create presentations that will be delivered by someone else. It's crucial to understand the presenter's style and ensure they feel comfortable with the slides you are creating.

When you are writing a presentation for someone else, it's essential to tailor it to their preferred style. Single-use decks, such as keynote presentations, are relatively easier to customize for the presenter's style, as they are typically built specifically for that purpose and presenter.

However, it can be more challenging when you are creating a sales presentation deck to be delivered by a diverse and global salesforce with varying skills and experience levels. Some presenters excel at storytelling, while others prefer to stick to the facts, and some may favor visually impactful imagery over written content. Understanding these nuances is crucial for your design team, as they need this information to produce a presentation that the presenter will feel comfortable delivering.

By adapting the presentation style to match the preferences and strengths of the presenter, you can maximize their effectiveness and ensure a cohesive and engaging delivery. Collaborating with the presenter and involving them in the presentation creation process can help ensure alignment and a comfortable presentation experience.

The final aspect to consider of the WHO is STAGE.

The B2B marketing and selling process is a complex journey that can span months or even years, and require different tactics and messaging depending on the step in that journey. Therefore, understanding the stage at which your presentation is being utilized greatly influences the content and messages in your slides.

The buying behavior of business buyers has evolved significantly in recent years, necessitating adjustments in how vendors market and sell their products and services. While every company may have its own specific definitions for buying and sales stages, they generally align with Awareness, Consideration, Decision, and Renewal (especially in the case of Software-as-a-Service companies). The purpose of the Slide Zero framework is not to define a new set of buying stages but to emphasize the importance of understanding the stage in your process when the presentation is being used. This understanding will impact the message's altitude (strategic or tactical), the tone of the presenter, and the desired outcomes you are aiming to achieve. This ensures that your presentation effectively addresses the specific needs and challenges of the audience at that particular stage, maximizing its impact and relevance.

The famous quote, "When you know your audience, your audience knows," emphasizes the importance of understanding your audience in order to effectively communicate with them. Thinking through the WHO of your presentation in terms of Audience, Context, Style, and Stage is a crucial step before you begin writing your slides. Clarity here has a significant impact on the relevance and success of your presentation, so gaining stakeholder alignment on these is a necessary step before starting slide #1.

As mentioned in my earlier blog, the team at Ghostranch has developed a set of tools for presentation planning that put the Slide Zero framework into action. One of these tools is Pitch Planner, a presentation planning tool available on their website. Pitch Planner provides product marketers with an easy-to-use workbook for planning their presentations, along with a templated executive summary slide (the Slide Zero) for the presentation review process. This tool empowers product marketers to take a strategic approach to presentation planning.

Stay tuned for my third blog in this series on how to plan a presentation, where we will delve into the WHY element of the Slide Zero framework. We will explore the importance of defining clear outcomes for your presentation and discuss the essential questions that need to be answered before writing slide #1.

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About The Author

Steve Earl, Executive Director, Product Marketing Practice

Steve Earl is a B2B marketing leader with a thirty+ year career in the technology industry, including over 20 years leading strategy and product marketing teams in developing and executing go-to-market strategies. Steve has held product marketing leadership positions at leading technology companies including Oracle, Kronos, Webtrends and Peoplesoft. His was most recently the VP of Product Marketing at Oracle, leading teams responsible for Oracle Marketing Cloud and their entire Oracle Customer Experience application business. As a product marketing leader, Steve believes in the value of storytelling to engage B2B audiences and has developed and delivered presentations for many different audiences in 14 countries. A strong proponent of frameworks, Steve leads his teams to always make the complex sound simple and to work collaboratively across marketing, product, and sales teams to ensure alignment and consistency in how a business goes to market.

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