Car Talk

Slides from a recent presentation

Yesterday, I gave a keynote presentation to an audience of around 250 people. Before any talk, I think about the people who are going to hear what I have to say. One of the most useful courses I took as an undergrad was Comms 101 (no, seriously). Communications isn’t just about requiring students to craft a set of prepared remarks (notecards, PowerPoint, written speech) and then face the fear of delivering those remarks in front of your peers. Comms 101 taught me to think about who was going to be receiving the information I wanted to share.

Know. Your. Audience.

My professor drilled those three words into our heads.

I do a lot of public speaking, and it’s something I think about whenever I have to prepare for an upcoming event. Who is my audience, and what is the best way to connect with them? I could introduce MMT to dozens of different groups, and the substance of my remarks wouldn’t vary a whole lot. But the style of the presentation would be tailored to meet the audience where they are.

Am I speaking to a Rotary Club, a student organization, financial experts, health care professionals, environmentalists, business leaders, a senior’s group, legal scholars, elected officials, book club members, other faculty, or a group of auto executives and engineers?

What gets added/omitted, emphasized/deemphasized, etc. depends on the audience (and, of course, on how much time I’ve got to work with). Laying out a good talk takes a lot of time. At least, it takes me a lot of time. I don’t read speeches, and I don’t read from my slides. I decide what I want my audience to understand, and then I prepare some slides to help them follow my arguments.

As an economist, many of my presentations are heavily weighted with data, charts, figures, graphs and so on. But not always.

Know. Your. Audience.

Here’s a talk I gave to a group of automobile experts over the weekend. I don’t know much about their industry, but I was determined to try to connect with all 250 of them. The talk was about the economy, where we are, where we might be headed, and where we could go if we fixed some of the broken thinking that continues to hold us back. It went over very well.

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