It's one of the fundamental principles of effective presentations.
Yet think about presentations you've attended recently. Did the speaker know and understand your issues? Did she make her material relevant and applicable to your circumstances? Did he welcome the interruptions of your questions? When a meaningful dialogue developed among audience members, did she allow it to continue or did she press on with her prepared remarks?
Were these speakers sincerely concerned about the value you received or did they just give lip service to audience focus...or worse yet, act as if the audience wasn't even there?
If the prescription for presentation success is so universally held, what would cause a speaker to not focus on the audience? [pardon my split infinitive]PERCEIVED LACK OF TIME
Most people agree intellectually with the value of audience focus. However, when it comes to actually preparing and delivering the presentation, lack of time often becomes the excuse to relegate audience focus to a "nice-to-have." There suddenly isn't enough time to do audience research and get the PowerPoint slides done. There suddenly isn't enough time to get through the prepared words and slides and engage the audience in dialogue. There suddenly isn't enough time to get to the end of the PowerPoint deck and take questions. The perceived pressure of time limitations overrides the belief that audience focus should trump everything else.EGO
A speaker who believes that his message is so brilliant, so meaningful, so true is likely to minimize the role of the audience in the dance that is a presentation. He assumes that, because of his vast subject matter knowledge, he understands what the audience needs to hear. Arrogance and poor listening skills worsen the situation and shield the presenter from even recognizing any feedback to the contrary.INSECURITY
On the opposite side of the ego coin, insecurity makes a presenter turn inward and focus only on herself. She is so worried about how she looks and how she'll be perceived and whether she'll survive, she has no bandwidth left for focusing on the audience. Insecurity also makes a speaker wary of giving the audience too much freedom or control, thus minimizing the chances of robust interaction.
So what are the cures for these lack of audience focus ills? Is there a magic presentation pill that can produce more time, whisk away arrogance and bestow confidence and calm?
Although there are certainly numerous techniques and best practices to heighten audience focus and engagement, fundamentally the cure to the three causes cited above is a shift of mindset. If you come from a place that truly believes understanding and satisfying the needs of the audience is the most important element in any presentation, this belief will direct your behavior and the rest is relatively easy.