You Can Rock Your Talks: What Every Presenter Should Know

At CAWEE’s May 10th breakfast meeting, I presented the story of an experience I had had a number of years ago. It was a presenter’s worst nightmare… a workshop audience in Rome, Italy had told me very directly that if I insisted on carrying out the planned agenda, they would revolt.

The possibility of a situation such as this happening frightens off many would-be presenters…fear of what the audience is going to do or not do…the “what ifs”.  But in my 30+ years of presenting, teaching, and speaking, this “revolting situation” has only happened the one time.

Audiences are generally polite. The attendees will sit there and endure – even if they are bored, disinterested, and disengaged…and that too can present a problem. We don’t know if they are engaged, interested, “getting it”, or even finding our information useful.

I’m guessing you want to make a positive impact – create raving fans who love your sessions, line up to make an appointment with you, and buy your products and services. So let’s look at what you need to know if you’re going to stand up in front of a group and give a talk or workshop.

I asked the CAWEE members and guests at the meeting to play along with me as I took them on a quick trip down memory lane. Half of the group was tasked with thinking back to a presentation or workshop they had attended that was really good, and the other half was asked to think of one that was really bad. I then asked them to share what had made the good one so good and the bad one so bad.

The results of this exercise point to Adult Learning Principles – the needs, wants, and likes of audience members – as well as their “don’t likes”. Every presenter must know these universal truths in order to lead a great session and get the results they’re looking for.

So here they are (together with the rationale for each one)….

  1. Adults need to know how the information they are learning is relevant, useful, & directly applicable to them. (If they can’t see it, they tune out.)
  2. Adults bring life experience and knowledge that must be respected and integrated into a session. (Previous experiences and knowledge often block willingness to learn new things.)
  3. Adults have varying preferences as to how they want to learn and varying abilities to process and remember what they are learning. (If we don’t provide variety, we don’t address this diversity.)
  4. Adults want to have control over their learning but still need guidance, feedback, and support. (Shared responsibility between the presenter and the audience will lead to better results.)
  5. Adults want an enjoyable learning experience that is respectful, encouraging, and builds their
    self-confidence. (They don’t want to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.)

These principles are equally applicable to a 5-minute talk, a 1-hour breakout session, or a full-day workshop.

Keep them in mind and incorporate them into every talk or workshop you give.  How? I’ll leave you with this final hint…Use questions, activities, stories, and/or discussions – and you’ll go a long way toward engaging your audience; helping them learn, remember, and use your stuff; and creating raving fans who come rushing back to you for more of your products and services.

Now go rock your talks and workshops!

For more information, check out my online school and Go to for your free quiz.