Know Your Audience: What You Don’t Know May Hurt You

Speakers Need To Realize Their Audience May Be Different From Them <p>(c) - 2008</p>
Speakers Need To Realize Their Audience May Be Different From Them (c) – 2008

When you think of the perfect speech in your mind, what do you see? Do you see yourself up on a stage giving a speech, reaching the end, and then having everyone stand up and applaud until their hands grow tired? Nice picture. However, all too often that doesn’t happen. There are lots of reasons for this, but one big one is because we don’t take the time to fully know our audience

Why Bother?

Why give a speech in the first place? There always has to be a reason for us to give a speech – are we there to entertain, inform, motivate, etc. We won’t be able to do this if we don’t connect with our audience. We won’t be able to connect with our audience if we don’t know who they are.

It’s way too easy for a speaker to make assumptions about the audiences that we are talking to. The biggest mistake is to assume that they see the world the way that we do. Craig Harrison points out that by presuming that the audience thinks the way that we do we risk offending them – perhaps without even realizing it.

It Takes A Village To Give A Speech

The right way to go about getting an audience on your side is to tackle three big issues right off the bat in any speech that you are giving:

  • Acknowledge Differences: What makes you different from the majority of your audience? You realize this and your audience realizes it. Deal with it in a way that shows respect. If you are an older speaker talking to a much younger audience you could start out by saying “I realize that you are out there looking at me and thinking to yourself that I may be old enough to be your parent; however, don’t worry – I won’t be telling you that you should visit your mother more, that you really should be getting more sleep, or asking when you’ll finally be getting married. Instead, how about if we talk about…
  • Include Everyone: Not only are you an outsider to your audience, there is a good chance that a lot of people in your audience are outsiders to the rest of the audience. Use the opening of your speech to unite everyone together at least on a single issue. An example might be “I realize that we all live in different neighborhoods, go to different schools, and attend different churches, but the proposed change in how property taxes are calculated will affect us all and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.
  • Mind Your Reputation: Before you even open your mouth, the audience has pre-judged you. It might be based on the information that was used to advertise the event or perhaps you are known for some past deed. Dealing with this right off the bat will allow your audience to get by it and start to listen to what you have to say. One way to do this would be “I come from the sunny state of Florida where you might think that just about everyone is retired and just living off of Medicare. However, there are a few of us who are still working and we care just as much, if not more, about the current debate over healthcare reform…

Final Thoughts

Giving a speech is a tough job. Giving a good speech is even tougher. You need to have your audience working with you, not against you if you want to have any hope of making an impact. The first step in accomplishing this is realizing that your audience is different from you.

Once you acknowledge this, then you need to work to include them and dispel any preconceived ideas that they may have about you. Learn to do this well and you’ll be able to intimately connect with your audience and make an lasting impact in their lives.

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Communicator Blog is updated.

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Have you ever heard the expression “one size fits all“? Something that too many public speakers don’t realize is that you need to create different speeches for different size audiences. There is no such thing as the one-size-fits-all speech.