Looking into the audience, you see a surprising majority of young faces. Thinking back to your presentation rehearsal, suddenly those "Star Trek" references and Cold War allusions seem out of place.

The solution isn't trying to talk about Twitch or Twitter. You can't—and shouldn't—pretend to be a communicator you aren't, so situations like this necessitate that you learn to balance the precarious line of self-referentiality by speaking to your audience from their perspective while maintaining the crucial ethos (credibility) required for a successful presentation.


The better you understand your audience, the more precisely you can tune your presentation to get the results you want. While there are many different approaches to audience analysis, with numerous aspects for evaluation, the focus here is on the key differentiator of age.

We are living in unusual times in that we are all challenged to communicate across three, four, and even five generations at the same time. You know you could describe a new initiative in achievement-oriented language for your executive staff ("these changes will allow us to crush the competition") versus the language you would use for your rank and file employees ("new processes will allow us to maintain and grow employment and job satisfaction"). The same applies to the generational differences like Baby Boomers ("these changes will allow us to work better together for the good of the company") versus Millennials ("new processes will allow you to individualize your work for greater flexibility and personal success"). Identifying the right words for the right audience is key.


We must be careful to resist the temptation to assume our audiences are like ourselves. As you refine your understanding of your audience, look for references that will resonate with any audience. Instead of trying to guess what they might like to hear, find a universal example to illustrate your point.

Examples from the natural world work especially well as we all live on Earth, and there are myriad ways to use that common ground without adding a heavy geographic or popular culture context. Think of the teamwork of a pride of lions on the hunt, the possibilities of outer space, or the power and unpredictability of weather systems. A shared point of reference can be particularly important for helping the audience bridge from the familiar to the unfamiliar.


Most often, you won't have an audience of all one generation. Expand your communication strategies to reach age-diverse audiences. Both people and companies rely too heavily on one strategy for communication. By making your message available in multiple formats (thus increasing the number of times you communicate a message), you'll reach all subgroups in your audience.

Just use caution when presenting to multiple groups not to use language or references you don't understand. This will distract audience members and, worse, serve as a knock against your credibility. A good rule of thumb is to check with someone in that generation about your usage if you're not sure, and when still in doubt, use a neutral example instead.

By refining your audience analysis, starting with a basic generational assessment, you can fine-tune your presentation in ways that resonate for your listeners while enhancing your own clarity and credibility. All it requires is overcoming the natural tendency to see the world only through our own eyes.