Most speakers approach a presentation with a plan. To prepare, they build messages, create compelling visuals, revise. They practice fine-tuning both content and delivery, becoming more comfortable with the material and their presentation of it.
But for many high-stakes presentations—a major project proposal, an FDA Advisory Committee Meeting, a policy hearing—preparation also includes holding one or more rehearsals before a mock audience in order to increase speaker control and comfort. The comment and critique resulting from such rehearsal directs revision, helping speakers to address issues and emphasize strengths more effectively.
Selecting a group of listeners to serve as a mock audience requires you to be mindful of the analysis you have made of your intended audience. That analysis not only continues to shape your messages, support, and delivery but may also help you build a mock audience that mirrors the actual one if such a replication will be helpful.
It won't always be.
But determining what you need from a mock audience is.
"Understanding the outcome-specific purpose of a mock panel is essential," says Michael Vivion, ECG Principal and one of its AdComm specialists. "A speaker or a team of presenters must define what is needed from the mock audience. Articulating that purpose guides the selection and recruitment of mock panelists; it helps ensure that the mock audience can indeed provide feedback that strengthens the presentation."
Michael notes that purpose may be affected by the number of mock presentations scheduled. "For a series of mocks, it's best to concentrate on a series of purposes, each time choosing participants that can address particular concerns." Those purposes could include evaluating the overall structure of the presentation, the quality of support provided, or the strength of major messages and the approach taken in each. The purpose could be to seek advice on how to handle issues or to obtain a hard critique of speaker performance; it could be to simulate the dynamics of Q&A sessions.
A purpose may also be less straightforward. At times, the purpose of a mock may be to reinvigorate a team or to motivate presenters to examine their claims more closely. At others, it may be to persuade mock participants to champion the product or action proposed, to form and lead positive opinions of it.
It's common for a mock—either a single, stand-alone or one of a series—to serve several purposes. Determine what they are, prioritize them, and then list potential advisors whose expertise qualifies them to address different aspects of the presentation.
"Then," Michael advises, "search within that group for mock panelists whose credibility is recognized by the speakers and whose style or approach supports the purpose." The speaker or team will best utilize feedback from a mock audience whose abilities are highly regarded, an audience whose capabilities and understanding are equal to or better than their own.
But response style also matters. Some potential panelists will be engaging, friendly, even charming. Others, though, may border on rudeness or hostility. "Some presenters may need brutal questions or a harsh manner in order to improve their presentations," Michael says. "Others can effect positive changes when mock panelists comment gently or simply question."
Use the purposes assigned to a mock presentation to select participant expertise and styles that will best benefit speakers. When you make a mock purpose-driven, you're likely to get the improvements that you need.