Know Your Audience

In the IT security world, it is extremely important to know your audience.  The audience can be customers, security professionals, management, peers, and/or trainees.  As the presenter, it is your responsibility to introduce yourself, anticipate fears and objections, exhibit knowledge to your supporters, and keep your thoughts and actions simple and positive to steer the objectives and project to the ultimate goal—success.

  • Acknowledge your fears. One of the biggest fears many people have is public speaking.  Suggestion: The primary difference between being in the audience and at the front of the room is that presenters and leaders have learned how to master their fear rather than letting it master them. The leader always sets the expectations and the tone for the task. Make sure that the audience is in a positive frame of mind to receive the information.
  • Familiarize yourself with the environment. Always arrive early when making a presentation.  This tells the audience that you are prepared, comfortable in your surroundings, and ready to focus on the topic. Always be prepared to present to an audience level that is different than the one expected so you can connect with everyone.
  • Trust your knowledge. Be proud of the fact that you were asked to speak or lead a project. You are in a position of leadership because of your knowledge and the person who asked you to speak has confidence in you. Accept that confidence and build on it! Remember that your message is unique to your audience. View the presentation as an opportunity to share your knowledge and enthusiasm with others.
  • Anticipate questions and objections. Even though you are the presenter, think like an audience member.  What questions would you have?  Did you cover your all of your bases?  Be prepared to discuss gray areas and issues for debate.  If you identify weak points, provide additional data. It is also important to look for opportunities where your audience might question your facts or interpretations. Be ready with additional facts to support your arguments and conclusions, such as references to documentation and publications.  If someone asks a question that you cannot answer, offer to research the issue and follow up with the person later with the answer.
  • Project to your supporters. Locate “allies” as you introduce yourself to your audience. Assess your audience during the session. Notice how some people smile, nod their heads, or take notes. Project to those people and let them help you build confidence. Acceptance creates confidence.
  • Practice simplicity. Confidence will grow to the extent that you keep your presentation simple. Talk in a conversational tone and never read to the audience. Allow your supporting documents to provide the framework, not the essence, of your presentation. Be ready to dissect your argument and support it.  Try to develop different scenarios to explain the key points in layman’s terms. Always remember K.I.S.S. = Keep It Simple Sam!

Effective presenters and leaders at all levels need to support people, customers, processes, and priorities. Don’t be afraid to face your fears. Embrace what you know, teach what you have learned, and cater to your audience. If the subject matter can be communicated, then it can be applied and you may just receive some applause!

Marilyn Smith