Facilitators: Know Thy Audience


At the risk of sounding buzz-wordy, Twitter, for all intents and purposes, has been a game-changer. Think about it – 10 short years ago, what did you think a “tweet” was?

Ah, 2004. It was a simpler time…

Over the past few years, Twitter has become not only a household name, but it is a major communication and broadcasting tool. Let’s have some fun. If you would, please take a moment to answer this short poll:

A couple of years ago, in my quest to facilitate a progressive learning experience, I developed a content review exercise; an exercise I was certain would be a hit with the audience. I asked a few people for feedback, and they all agreed that it sounded good (in hindsight, my sample group wasn’t exactly diverse). I brazenly forged ahead to facilitate this in a workshop for the first time.

The exercise? I called it “Key Messages in 140 Characters or Less”. The purpose of the exercise was to have small groups (2-3 people) discuss the key messages of the day’s event, and then summarize it onto flip charts…as if they were tweeting it. 140 characters or less. Then we would share the responses and discuss the key messages.

Brilliant, right?

Well, it could have been brilliant, had I taken a moment to poll my audience to know if they understood how Twitter worked, or what I meant by “140 characters or less”. But they didn’t, and the exercise bombed. Blank stares all around.


Don’t assume, people. Even with something that is popular. As you develop your learning content, one of the most important things you can do is to assess your audience during the needs analysis and development process. Here are 6 simple questions to ask yourself or your stakeholders as you develop your content, to ensure that it is relevant for your participants:

1. What is the average age and experience level of the participants?

2. What is their educational or training background?

3. Will the participants be a diverse group?

4. What makes this group unique?

5. What is the culture of the team or organization?

6. What types of technology, tools and job aids would the participants be most comfortable using?

The workplace is changing – we all know that. Our learners are a diverse mix of generations, cultures and learning styles. They have different needs and different interests. By integrating these simple questions into your development routine, you will discover important details about your participants that will lead to relevant content, engaging facilitation and meaningful interactions with learners.


Your turn: How do you learn about your participants and keep them in mind as you develop training content? How can we get better at this as learning professionals?

11 thoughts on “Facilitators: Know Thy Audience

  1. mattissimo says:

    Michelle – thanks for the post! I think we have all done things like your 140 Characters exercise, which is how we learn about asking the right questions. I ask very similar questions that you have listed. I also ask what the outcome should look like. What do you want your participants to know or do as a result of this session or training. I have always felt that you have to keep the audience in mind throughout the entire building process, and obviously DURING the session, but have also seen a lot of presenters who seem to disregard their audience. I never understood that.

    Thanks again!

    • Michelle says:

      Great comment! You’re absolutely right, being mindful of the audience DURING the session is just as important as during the development of the session. I’ve certainly been on the “participant” side of sessions where the facilitator was not focused on the audience…NOT a good experience! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Charlene says:

    I think another very important question during the needs analysis period is “what does the audience WANT to learn about?” Too often presenters (I include myself in this bunch) can be over-zealous in delivering the message they want to deliver vs. developing a message around the audiences’ desires. It still is all about #WIIFM! (Me, being the individuals in your target audience.)

    • Michelle says:

      Fantastic reminder, Charlene! Despite being the ones “on stage”, facilitators need to remember that it’s about THEM…the audience…not ourselves! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Judy Pollock says:

    In our Presentation Skills classes we teach participants to finish this sentence, “At the end of this talk I want my audience to…….” This helps in prep as well as during the talk, as the presenter is ever mindful of the outcome she is seeking.

  4. Uma Udaykumar says:

    Judy. I am going to try that as well. I am currently training very young people who are not very fluent in english. So I have tailor made my training to use very simple words, treat the very shy ones very gently and eventually drew them out to participate. Love the experience.

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