Public speaking know your audience

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It’s important to know your audience so you can tailor your message

Hi, it’s Shola here. And today, we’re going to talk about knowing your audience when you’re doing your public speaking because knowing your audiences is probably one of the most important things because without knowing who the audience are, it’s very hard for you to tailor your message. It’s very hard for you to figure out exactly what the right content is, and then even your delivery might change a bit depending on who you have in front of you. So what I’m going to do today is read out a few of the questions that you should be asking the event organizer, or whoever’s putting on the meeting, or the conference that you’ll be speaking at. You should be asking them these questions to make sure that you’re really well-prepared before you even begin to create your presentation. And I’m getting these questions from my book, which is called How to be a Diva at Public Speaking.

You should always aim to find out basic information – from age range to their top needs

And despite the pink cover and the lips, it’s a book that can be enjoyed by men as well as women, and I’ve got quite a few good reviews from men as well. But anyway, let’s jump into the questions. So the first question and these are in no particular order, questions like how many people would I be speaking to? Because whether you’re speaking to a big conference or five people that will change a little bit the way that you deliver your presentation. What is the expected age range? What do they have in common? Is there an approximate ratio of female to male? What are their top three needs? What is the interest of the audience in my subject matter? Okay. Are they casually interested? Are they experts already? So that means if they are experts, you might need to step up your game a bit and really go deep with the information that you share versus if they’re beginners. Are there any sensitive topics to avoid?

Have sets of questions you can ask about your audience – if you have different audiences make different lists!

So when I used to speak at schools, I would always ask that question in particular. How will they be dressed? What are their interests? Who is the key decision-maker? Because quite often you want to keep the decision-maker happy, as well as the audience, and sometimes what their goals are, it could be quite different. What does the decision-maker want as the outcome for the talk? How much do they already know about my topic? How much does the audience already know? Which speakers have they had in the past and of those speakers, which ones were well received, and which ones weren’t well-received? Which ones were poorly received and why? What kind of anecdotes, stories, and examples will go down well? So, for example, I gave a talk about a month ago to someone’s audience and she said to me, “Well, my crowd love stories.” So I made sure that I put plenty of stories about myself and my clients into that presentation.

It’s useful to think about the energy of the group

Will they be a lively group? For example, if you’re speaking in the evening and there’s a free bar, maybe some people will be a bit drunk. Maybe you’ll have a few hecklers, depends on the event, doesn’t it, and also whether people have been having a bit of fun beforehand. Will they be drowsy? Maybe you’re speaking right after lunch, and so people will be a little bit drowsy, right? Am I expected to create a handout? Will there be AV facilities? Okay.

Ask questions about the facilities at the venue when public speaking

What’s the audiovisual facilities? Are you expected to just speak? Sometimes if you’re possibly speaking at a small event that’s being held maybe in a function room, in a restaurant, they may not have AV facilities there. So it’s important to check because if you come along with your PowerPoint presentation that you’re heavily going to lean on for prompts, and then they say, “Well, there are no facilities,” or even worse, they tell you that there are facilities and they’re broken on the day, then that could really screw things up for you. So it’s important to check in, are there facilities, and then you may want to check in again closer to the time to check that those facilities are actually working.

Set your speaking pace by understanding how diverse your audience is

Also, last question here is will all of them have English as a first language? What proportion will have English as a second language or whatever language that you speak? So you want to know should I be speaking quickly? Should I be making provisions for the language that most people there speak or for them perhaps needing me to speak a little bit slower? So that’s also a useful question. You can also even speak to some of the attendees of the session. So you could get there early, chat to a couple of them, ask them, “Why did you come? What are you looking for from today’s presentation?” So that’s also something you can do. It’s something I’ve done in the past.

Learning about the organisation you’ll be speaking for will also help you prepare and perform better

You could do a bit of research on the organization itself, so you understand what they are about. And, even if you find the other speakers who’ve spoken to that group, you can even contact those speakers and check in with them and say, “Well, how was it? How was it speaking to the group? What were they like?” So there’s a lot of things that you can do to be prepared for your audience, and I’ve read out a few here. There are a few more left in this book, which is called How to be a Diva at Public Speaking, or you can put your own list together, based on what you know about the event, but it’s really, really important to do your audience research as early as possible, and preferably, before you even start to prepare your presentation. Take care.

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Shola Kaye is an award-winning speaker, author and professional speaker coach with clients around the world. Her work has been mentioned in Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar and on the BBC.
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