They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they're always the lens through which the audience hears, interprets and values your message.
Expectations typically are based either on past experiences..."I've been in this situation before and I got 'x' so it's reasonable to assume that I will get 'x' this time as well" or they're based on outcomes one simply hopes will happen, without much basis in fact or reason. For example, the student who expects he will get an A on the final exam when he hasn't studied.
Sometimes audience expectations can be downright unrealistic...like wanting to master a new skill in a way-too-short time frame or expecting information that is not yet available for release.
And more times than you'd think, speakers don't even know what the audience's expectations are.
So what's a speaker to do?
While meeting or exceeding any expectations the audience may hold is a worthy objective, a sensible parallel one is to learn to manage them.
How do we do that? Here is an integrated approach to managing any audience's expectations.
1. Before the presentation, provide an accurate summary of your topic for any source [agenda, program, etc.] where details of your remarks will be published. If the presentation is within your organization, to the best of your ability, monitor any descriptions or comments that are circulating and adjust, as necessary, so they reflect what you will actually talk about.
2. Do an outstanding job of audience analysis so you have clear insight into the audience's needs. Send out a questionnaire, interview representative attendees, understand their mindset, anticipate questions. If you do your homework, you will be much more likely to understand the majority of expectations and provide information that is relevant to the audience's circumstances. And while this won't capture every single expectation that attendees bring, it will give you a good foundation from which to address anything unexpected.
3. During the presentation, state clearly what you will cover. Sometimes unmet expectations come from lack of clarity when an attendee mistakenly assumes that something should have been covered and is then frustrated when it's not.
4. If there is a gap between what you're delivering and what the audience expects, bridge it by suggesting additional resources. For example, "We've been talking about exercises to engage a group of 10-15 people. For those of you who work with larger groups, here's a website that has excellent tools for large group activities."
5. Adopt a technique from the training world...the parking lot. If attendees reveal expectations in the form of issues or questions that you are not equipped to deal with [because of lack of knowledge, information or time], "park" them [on a flip chart or piece of paper, ideally where all can see] and let attendees know that you will either follow up with more information or refer the issue to the appropriate person(s). While this doesn't automatically cause those expectations to be met, it does convey that you are committed to satisfying the needs of the audience.
6. If a majority of your audience has expectations that, by keeping to your planned remarks you will not likely meet, and if you have the necessary knowledge to have a discussion about the audience's desired topic, I say go for it. What could be a better example of meeting audience needs than letting them set the agenda. If you have this flexibility, I guarantee you, your audience will walk away more satisfied.
What are some of the techniques you have found to be successful in managing audience expectations?
Flickr/"Penny Waits" C.C. 2.0