Many people that know me or have had me do a public speaking engagement for them know that I am a real stickler for pre program research. This research allows you to connect with the audience on much deeper levels than you could have without it. There are many ways to do this research.
You can review trade publications, do Internet searches, secret shop retail establishments, and use a pre program questionnaire. I do most of these research techniques for every presentation, but the technique that is most effective for me is the telephone interview.
Interview at least 15 people before you speak at an event. Try to speak to a cross section of the people that are going to be at the meeting. If they are all of the same rank and same job responsibilities, make sure that you get cross section from geographics, short timers versus old timers and/or male versus female. Be sure to get a wide range of views. Ask some variation of these questions:
What are the three biggest challenges you have in getting your daily duties done. Tell me about the organizational successes. Tell me about the organizational failures. Tell me anything funny that has happened.
Now we will look at how to use the information you get. One of my overriding principals of public speaking is to make the audience the stars. One way to do this is to use a very positive or insightful statement that you got from your phone interviews and project it or put it in your handout in a prominent position. Many times my entire customized presentation is based around the quotes I got from the people I interviewed. I weave my material in and around what they have told me. I then give the overhead or disk to the person who gave me the information.
Overheads are much better for this because I have seen them hanging on the bulletin board in the organization. Of course, my name and company are on it too. Your pre-program research will also help you build rapport and gain an 'insiders' position because you will be exposed to the terminology of the group, i.e., you might have used the generic term manager, but you learned that the term 'team leader' is used by a particular organization.
The information you receive can also be used to plant the seed for a future presentation or to land consulting work. You might say during a presentation, 'Joe, also told me about XYZ. We don't have time to discuss that today, but it certainly warrants some attention.' Besides promoting you, it shows you did your homework and that you know what is going in a the group to which you are speaking.