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  • Bruce Rule

Know Your Audience When Public Speaking (Part 2)


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Tailor your presentation to your audience whenever you can

Finding out as much as you can about your audience beforehand will help your public speaking be as sharp as possible. In the last post we went over what you should do when you are scheduled to speak at a company meeting. Now, let’s discuss what else you can do when you are doing a presentation or speech outside the company or that is not in a company setting.

 

Just as with a company presentation, the first thing you should do when you are scheduled to speak is ask the arranger who is expected to be there. The more he can tell you about the composition of the audience and what their expectations might be the better. That will help you put together a more targeted presentation. Say you are asked to give a speech on gardening, for instance. That’s a broad subject, but if the arranger is able to tell you that the people you will be talking to belong to a gardening club that focuses on growing roses you can focus your presentation on that.

 

Here’s a true-life example of what can go wrong if you don’t take into consideration who your audience is and what their expectations are. I knew a gentleman who was a big proponent of Toastmasters, the public-speaking organization, and he loved promoting the group. Anytime he had the chance he would get up and talk about the positive ways Toastmasters could help people improve their communication skills, and he was very sincere about his love of the organization. I am sure his speech went over well when he had a chance to appear in public.

 

He loved Toastmasters so much that he rose to a regional position in the organization and would regularly visit other clubs. He was a regular at regional meetings as well. As an official, he would be asked to say a few words. And he would get up and talk about all the positive ways Toastmasters could help improve communication skills with just as much passion as he would when speaking to an outside group.

 

In fact, it was pretty much the same speech.

 

That meant when he spoke at a Toastmasters meeting, he was boring, very boring. Why? Because he didn’t take into consideration that he was now talking to people who were already in Toastmasters. They didn’t need or want the same sales pitch.

 

After one of his appearances I pulled him to the side and explained that I thought he was preaching to the choir. I suggested that an audience of Toastmasters would probably benefit more if he talked less about how wonderful the group is and more about what he learned in his years in Toastmasters or what the future might bring. He smiled, nodded and continued to give the same speech at ensuing meetings. He never seemed to notice how deflated his audience members were when his name was announced or how distracted and bored they were.

 

Do not be like him.

 

Meeting Your Audience

 

Tailor your speech or presentation as much as you can based on what you find out beforehand. As you improve as a public speaker you may also want to tweak it at the last moment once you are at the event.     

 

We went over the importance of arriving early and greeting audience members in previous posts (found here and here). You can use that time to learn more about your audience and what is expected of you.

 

For instance, talking to audience members as they arrive can give you a sense of how much they already know about your topic. If it is clear to you that most of the people you are greeting are completely unfamiliar with the subject, you might have to tweak your presentation to make it simpler or to explain things that you had assumed the audience would know. On the other hand, if it becomes clear that your audience will be filled with people who already have a deep knowledge of the subject then you will need to skip the basics or risk boring them and losing their attention.

 

You also can see if the audience skews younger or older than you expected. If it turns out that the gathering is mostly Millennials, for instance, they may not understand your references to Mr. T or disco. Or worse, they might write you off as an old fogey.  Conversely, a much older audience may not be up to date with some of the current pop references. Or they may not be as tech-savvy and will need you to explain any technical advice in a much simpler and clearer way. (True story: A friend of mine was once trying to help his elderly mother do something on her computer. When he told her she had to put the mouse on a particular link on the screen, she picked the  mouse up off her desk placed it on her monitor.)

 

You might also pay attention to the cultural or ethnic background of your audience, depending on the subject. Say you are invited to give an historical presentation about California in the 19th century. You notice that a good number of people arriving for the talk are of Latino background. That might flavor what you want to emphasize in your talk. But if there are many people of Asian background, it might make sense to include how the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 affected California.Please note that last-minute tweaking will become easier for you once you are an experienced public speaker and you are well-versed in your subject.

 

You should concentrate on improving your presentation skills when you are starting out. That probably means giving the presentation you put together using the knowledge you gathered before arriving at the event. Last-minute tweaking can wait until you are confident that you can make changes without hurting your presentation.  


Photo by Megha Thakker,CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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