Public speaking – it’s all about the audience

Aud speaking tips

 

You’ve been invited to speak at a meeting. This could be something internal (within your organization) or external (for example, you volunteer with a not-for-profit organization and you’ve agreed to talk to a group of potential donors on their behalf). Following up on a previous post, here are some observations on audiences to help you become a more effective presenter.

Who are the people listening – or not listening – to you? Why are they there?
The event has been scheduled, the invites/notices have gone out, and you are the presenter. What do you know about your audience?

Audience analysis involves identifying the audience and adapting your presentation to them. This doesn’t mean “saying what they want to hear.” Audience adaptation should guide your content development and approaches to delivery.

Audiences can include reluctant attendees, indifferent visitors, agreeable supporters, and angry or fearful dissidents.

The “we have to be there” mindset.
For instance, I would contend that students in a public speaking class – and their motivation to listen to you – is somewhat mixed. (Hey, they’ve “got” to be there regularly, right? We refer to this as a “captive” audience.) In my experience, here are some of the reasons students are in class:

  • They want to get the information they need to do well on an upcoming test;
  • They hope the skills they learn will help in an upcoming job interview;
  • They want to get through the class to receive credit towards their degree and/or at least not get dropped from the course (if the teacher is recording student absences as outlined in the class syllabus they’ll meet the minimum attendance requirement);
  • They love learning.

The “who cares” listeners – uninterested or apathetic.
Perhaps a friend or significant other dragged these folks to your talk. Audience members are asking themselves “Why am I here?” Your biggest challenge will be getting people in this group to even listen.

The “we agree with you” point of view.
Most audience members share your opinions. As a collective group, your listeners relate to you, connect with you, and endorse your contentions and recommendations.

The “we don’t agree with you” and/or we’re angry or frustrated attendees.
What if audience members don’t concur with your main points? This is definitely a challenge if you’re trying to persuade. Can you establish “common ground” with listeners if they aren’t inclined to listen from the get-go? This – this – is why knowing about your audience is so important.

Here’s an example of a speaker at a recent community Town Hall, Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) at an event in rural Frost, Texas. These Town Halls are set up as open forums for constituents to ask questions and hear from representatives. In this instance, Barton seemed to be unaware of the level of “resistance” he would encounter from audience members opposing his policy positions.

Listen to a portion of the presentation where Barton shouted back.

The bottom line.
Every audience is different. However, consider the potential “makeup” of attendees who have come to hear you speak before you arrive to speak. Tune in for the next post in this series on audience adaptation, some recommendations on ways to engage with your audience/s.

Who is your audience?

Audience analysis
The speaker-audience connection.

My friend, fellow communicator and screenwriter Jim Ramsbottom recently asked me to share some insights on public speaking and audience analysis as a guest on his podcast. Check out our conversation.

Listen to the interview.

Thank you, Jim!

 

3 tips on how to use evidence to persuade

Speaker credibility

When a presenter wants to persuade listeners to do something – or change their point of view on an issue or topic – it’s not enough to rely solely on emotion to persuade. Speakers should also use evidence to support their contentions. Here are a few tips.

1. Cite your sources. If you’re using a statistic to support one of your main points, where did that information come from? Is the source reliable and trustworthy? If you’re the expert, fine. Make sure the audience knows about your experience/expertise related to the topic. (You’re not bragging; you’re qualifying yourself as a credible source.)

2. Connect the dots. Explain how the information you cite supports the points you’re making. Don’t just throw the information out there.

3. Use several credible sources to maximize persuasion, not just one. You may have a single expert you quote whose opinion or testimony supports your contentions in a powerful way. However, citing additional sources will bolster your arguments leading to persuasion. Using more than one source should also help mitigate audience members’ possible suspicions that if only one person, report or whatever supports your point of view, there’s something wrong. Why should they believe you based on only one source you cite? I’m guessing they want to hear more.

Don’t ever walk away

I'm done 3

I could be referring to several things here (don’t run away from something fearful, or be brave, for instance). But what I’m talking about relates to speakers. Presenters who conclude a speech without a closing statement, leaving audience members hanging. (Worse yet, speakers who use “the end” as their final declaration.)

If you’d like listeners to remember your talk, wind it up with something memorable. What’s the most important thing you’d like people to keep in mind? Feel? Is there something you’d like them to do now that they’ve heard what you have to say?

A planned, well-constructed, this-is-the-last-thing-I’ll-say and it’s worth remembering concluding statement can inspire reflection and action. Deliver these words forcefully. Deliberately. Powerfully.

Bottom line, have a concluding statement. Don’t walk away without one.