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!

 

Speaking and communication

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Through the years I’ve listened to plenty of speeches as a communications coach and teacher. I’ve worked with corporate executives to help them refine their communication skills and abilities. I’ve taught public speaking at colleges and universities. I’ve given informative and persuasive presentations to business audiences, too.

Public speaking involves sharing information with an audience to inform, persuade or entertain listeners. Seems simple enough. But let’s take a closer look and reframe our perspective a bit.

“Speaking” isn’t the end game. We are communicators. Speaking is the channel, the tool we use to communicate; writing is another form of communication. As a communicator, speaking can be incredibly powerful in connecting with others.

Through public speaking, we can share our feelings and points of view. We express ideas, personal narratives, or experiences. We may convey emotions or impart deep concerns.

What makes some communicators stand out when addressing an audience to persuade?

They inspire, enhance understanding, and influence through personal examples, credible evidence and documentation. They maintain eye contact with the crowd. They compel listeners to act. And that’s just the beginning.

I’ll be publishing more tips and tactics right here – verbal and nonverbal thoughts and recommendations – to help you become a more effective communicator in the public speaking setting. Stay tuned.

Next up:  we’ll examine your audience. Who are they? Why are they listening to you?

 

 

 

How to make – and keep – New Year’s resolutions

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Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?

If you’re like me, these are the “things I said I would do,” including my goals, desired accomplishments, behavior changes, and so on. Contemplating the bold new world of 2017 deserves some focused thought leading to action, right?

The challenge is the “leading to action” part. Wishful thinking and “desired” results will take us just so far.

What’s on your resolutions list for 2017? How do you plan to turn your intentions into reality? Are your commitments realistic and achievable, and what will you need to do to make them happen?

By the end of 2017, if we look at our list of unfulfilled resolutions, we’ll probably move them into the “items to trash” bucket. We might resurrect them for the “new” new year. Time marches on.

Perhaps we should create a smaller list of “to-dos.” Let’s identify the key ideas worthy of our attention. Things we can and should do – and actions that will make a difference to others.

At the top of my list is blogging more. I will continue to share insights with followers on ways to become a more confident, effective speaker, and offer some best practice tips for writing.

Stay tuned and welcome to 2017!

 

I’m just saying…

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I love Texas. Although I wasn’t born here, I got here as fast as I could. My family landed in Wichita Falls, down the road a piece from where I live now (Dallas-Fort Worth).

Today I’m fixin’ to tell you some things about giving a speech. Here are some handy-as-sliced-bread and smart-as-a-hooty owl speaking tips.


Just because a chicken has wings don’t mean it can fly.
Everyone can talk, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to an effective presentation. Outline your main points and practice your speech out loud (more than once) prior to the day you’ll speak.

This ain’t my first rodeo. Make sure your audience understands how you know so much about your topic. Are your observations based on personal experience? If not, cite credible sources to support your contentions.

She speaks ten words a second, with gusts to fifty. More words, uttered quickly, can impede the speaker-audience connection. Speak clearly and concisely to enhance understanding.

Don’t leave your audience as confused as a goat on AstroTurf. Make your speech fine as frog fur.

Speaking and eye contact. Does it matter?

Writers write to communicate. Speakers speak for the same reason. So doesn’t it make sense that an article or blog post could be “converted” into a speech, word for word?

the eye

The short answer is no. Reading a manuscript doesn’t make it a speech (at least not a very good one). So why do so many speakers “read” their speeches? Laziness? Lack of preparation? Fear? The presenter just doesn’t know any better? As an audience member, I may not know why the speaker is reading, but chances are I’ll be tuning out shortly. An effective presentation engages listeners, and eye contact is one of the best ways to do that. Here are some top-of-mind tips to enhance eye contact.

  • Prepare and practice. Develop a clear statement of purpose and organize your main points. Use note cards, not sheets of paper. Rehearse your presentation out loud — more than once. Look up, not down.
  • During your presentation, scan the room. Don’t focus on a single audience member, or zero in on a spot above their heads at the back of the room. (Student speakers have told me this “looking-over-their-heads” advice was given to them — I disagree).
  • If you’re using visual aids such as PowerPoint, don’t turn your back to listeners and read from your slides. It’s okay to glance at your visual, or even turn sideways, but reorient yourself to face the audience.

Tune in later for more on how to improve your speaking skills and confidence.

Don’t ever walk away

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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.

What do skydiving and speaking have in common?

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“Feet in the door, get out, go!”

This is what I heard several times at the beginning of a fascinating journey years ago. I jumped out of a plane 22 times (actually, 2 different planes – a Cessna 182 and Cessna 206).

I got the idea from an article I read in a Dallas newspaper. The reporter shared her story about the “first jump course” (classroom instruction and ground training), then detailed her first jump. I decided to investigate.

Admittedly, I love planes, always have. And skydiving was a lot less expensive than taking the classes to learn to fly a small plane. I knew if I could (willingly) throw myself out of a plane, I would be tackling a huge fear. My self-confidence would increase. I could do almost anything. The sky’s the limit, right?

I had already confronted my fear of public speaking. (Everyone knows that speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person — the number two fear is death!) I was a debater in high school and college, completed a master’s degree in speech communication and served as a debate coach, and taught public speaking. So how hard could it really be to jump out of a plane?

It wasn’t easy, at first. It was terrifying. And initially overcoming my anxiety in front of an audience wasn’t stress-free, either.

Skydiving and public speaking both arouse some level of fear or anxiety. To “get better” at either endeavor, preparation and practice are essential. For public speaking, fear dissipates with practice. Spend plenty of time preparing, and connect with your audience.

For skydiving, thanks to the instruction and training I received along with some awesome moral support from jumpmasters and other skydivers, I was able to ease my fear with each successive jump.

What fear will you face today? Consider how preparation and practice might open the door to your personal and professional success.

Take that first step. Feet in the door.

 

How to persuade: The #1 tip for speakers

Levi 3“Hello, my name is ________ and I’m here today to tell you about ________.”

If I’m in the audience and that’s the first thing I hear, I usually tune out, regardless of  how interesting or compelling the topic might be. If you don’t grab my attention at the start, I probably won’t listen very carefully to whatever else you have to say, if at all.

The introduction to a speech — any speech — is critical. This is the moment when listeners will either connect to what you have to say — and take notice — or take a mental holiday.

Let’s say you’re giving a speech to persuade. By the end of the presentation, you want audience members to do something. Maybe you want them to sign a petition, vote for a particular candidate, send a letter to government representatives or other stakeholders, support a cause, take part in a rally or contribute money to a charity. Regardless of the specific request, you want to encourage listeners to act. That’s much less likely to happen if you don’t engage the audience at the very beginning of your speech.

For example, if I was giving a speech to persuade residents in a Dallas neighborhood to donate money or volunteer their time to support the efforts of a nonprofit organization helping rescue stray dogs in the area,* here’s how I might begin my talk (keep in mind I’m focusing on content here, not delivery — that’s another article or blog post):

When I first saw this creature one night — I wasn’t sure exactly what it was — it seemed to be hiding behind a car across the street from my apartment. There was no street light, so things were shadowy. Then I heard a soft, low noise that sounded like a whimper. As I looked more closely, I could see a nose, then a small paw. Then a quivering, wire-haired animal with a long tail inched out unsteadily from behind the car’s back tire. It was a dog. That’s how I met Fido, and I could tell he needed help.”

A brief story using imagery like this can capture attention. Immediately after reciting this short narrative, I might project an image of Fido as part of a continuing PowerPoint presentation. Subsequent portions of an introduction would include a statement of proposition (“Every dog like Fido deserves a chance to be happy, healthy and loved, and you can help”), followed by a preview of the main points you’ll cover in the body of your speech.

Of course, there are other ways to lead into your speech. You can cite compelling statistics or facts, use an analogy, offer expert opinion or testimony, make a startling statement, or use humor (if appropriate). Whatever approach you decide to take, consider your audience. Why are they listening to you? What will be most relevant to them? How can you get — and keep — the audience’s attention?

Your presentation may be packed full of awesome information, but no one will appreciate that if they checked out about the time you said “hello.” Make your introduction unforgettable. The odds are that listeners will remember that speech and you, too. Better yet, they’ll be persuaded to do what you asked.

*Duck Team 6 searches for elusive dogs that need to be rescued and off the streets. Find out more here. The dog pictured in this post is Levi, my terrier mix. He was adopted from Operation Kindness, a no-kill shelter.