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Identifying Your Audience and Focus

One of the first steps in preparing an oral presentation is to identify your audience. This will help you determine two key aspects of your talk—content and tone. For example, the way you speak to experts in your field will be quite different than how you speak to the general public. On this page, you’ll learn more about how to identify your audience and focus of your talk.

Pro Tip #1: For a general audience, pay close attention to the vocabulary you use in your presentation, especially if you use technical terms and acronyms. Test words out on family and friends to see if they are well-known or require more explanation




Check out WIRED magazine’s YouTube series 5 Levels, where scholars are challenged to explain a concept for five different audience types. Watch a few different videos and pay particular attention to how the speaker adapts the concept. How did their topic grow in complexity? What takeaways can you apply to your work?

Next Steps

  • Download our handout, which includes questions to help you think through planning your presentation.
  • Sign up for the Graduate College’s Research Live! competition, which challenges you to give a compelling talk about your work in three minutes or less for a public audience.
  • Look for opportunities to connect with others in your department, on campus, and in professional organizations that you belong to. This will allow you to mingle with diverse audiences and practice adapting your talk to people with different interests.
  • Attend a talk on campus (check out the Campus Speaker Calendar) and evaluate it from the perspective of an audience member. Did the lecture have a clear focus? Was there any jargon used that was not clearly defined?
  • Look through the website for any professional organizations to which you belong to see if they have resources or tips for giving oral presentations. This will be useful if your audience is scholars in your field.