Understanding and Responding and Responding to Your Audience

by: Ardis Bazyn

What determines how and what to present to a given audience? Do you always use the same prepared speech on the requested topic area? How do you decide if changes should be made and whether to involve the audience more? Do you investigate what the audience characteristics are and use them to decide what they might enjoy?

When I receive an invitation to a particular function, I try to find out as much as I can about the audience ahead of time. I ask the person who invited me to attend. I check out the website of the company or organization, if possible. I also try to arrive early enough to talk to a few participants to get a ‘feel’ for the atmosphere.

A speaker questionnaire sent in advance answers relevant questions concerning the size of the audience, the range of age of the audience, and the gender of the audience members. It is also helpful to know how the room will be laid out, whether a microphone will be available, and if there are people with hearing impairments in the audience. If you know the answer to these questions, you can accommodate the audience more readily. For example, you could bring your own microphone. Also, you could determine whether to break into groups during your presentation.

If you know the history or background of the group, you can change certain elements of your presentation. In most cases, I use personal experience stories when I speak. I may have made a note of several possibilities. If I know an audience is a group of members who have recently experienced similar events in their lives: heart attack, lost their sight, or started a new business; I can relate more quickly by telling about my own past experience in that situation. One of my speeches on ‘Coping with Challenge and Change’ talks about the challenges and changes I’ve experienced in my life through the years. Depending on the audience, I may focus on the more relevant experiences. Audience members will tend to remain more attentive if they can relate to your presentation.

When I speak on ‘Setting Realistic Goals’, I focus on how determination and drive are necessary when reaching for your dream goal or vision for the future. If I speak to a sales group, I can mention the time management techniques important to keeping in contact with your customers. I also can relay what some obstacles I’ve had to overcome to complete my own goals. Then the audience could be asked (if appropriate) to break into groups and share an experience with the others.

In my presentations on ‘Image Building for Organizations or Churches’, I use my experiences starting several new businesses and promoting membership organizations. I can tell why I’ve written surveys, questionnaires, or conducted personal interviews to make important changes in customer service, marketing techniques, or publicity. Each experience in any venue can help others prevent wasting their time making similar mistakes. Conversely, others can improve their own outreach to employees, customers, or members by listening to my experiences. In audiences of this type, you could break into groups and discuss personal experiences in the topic area (membership, marketing, customer service).

Have you learned beneficial information, marketing tools, or inspiration that kept you focused on a more positive future? Any speaker who gives insight by sharing personal experiences will likely motivate audience members more than simply giving the ‘how to:’ or steps necessary. Identifying your own unique background and using your most profound experiences will help others to remember the reasons why they should change, learn, work harder, or whatever your goal is.

First, make a list of outcomes you want from your audience. Do you want to humor them? Do you want to inform them? Do you wish to persuade them to take action? Do you want them to be inspired?

Once you decide on the outcome you want, think of your past experiences and how they might be useful to your audience. For humor, you may remember a funny childhood experience or an experience with one of your children. Jokes can work especially if you can use a leader in the group as an example. This should be done only if you have formed a positive rapport with this person and are sure he/she won’t be offended.

Human interest stories are always appreciated. For inspiration, you might mention some mentor or friend who assisted you in some memorable way. Also, audience interaction keeps the audience more interested in your topic. Involve your audience by allowing them to share their own experiences on the relevant topic with the person nearest them.

If you are persuading a group to take an action, you may tell about an incident where you took a similar step and how it helped you to succeed. If you didn’t take action and that caused you some problems, use that experience to tell others about how you wish you had taken a more positive step. Information sharing can be dull if you don’t add some interesting stories or focus to the topic.

In speeches or sales talks you’ve heard, what has helped you remember the main focus? Was it the topic itself or the personal experiences of the speaker? What you’re your experiences taught you? Well, don’t forget to share your experiences with others!

Ardis Bazyn, Speaker, Coach, and Author
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