Wednesday, April 09, 2008

what audiences want from speakers

To the surprise of many of my trainees, I start speaker and presentation trainings with someone other than the speaker: the audience. That's because I find many speakers concerned with their own perspectives--what they want to say, whether they know their facts, what suit looks best on them--and less focused on the desires and goals of the people to whom they'll be speaking. Here's my take on what audiences want from speakers...does your next speech take these factors into account?
- Be brief: Rare is the audience that wants you to speak longer--or even to fill the time allotted. Consider the Internet's impact on attention spans; this BBC article notes that "the attention span of the average web surfer is measured in seconds." It also may be because the audience wants you to...

- Let the audience talk: In our experience, audiences want to talk. They may have similar experiences to share, questions to ask, or comments to make--just as they do on talk radio, blogs and websites. The smart speaker allows more than enough time for questions, and announces that option at the start.

- Get the audience active and engaged: Take a poll of the audience by asking them questions, then asking them to stand or raise their hands if their answer is affirmative. Call for volunteers to demonstrate a point. Or just get into the audience yourself: Abandon that lectern, sit on the edge of the stage or walk into the crowd with your microphone to visually engage them.

- Know who they are: Doing research on your audience before you create a speech or presentation is essential. A speaker who shares an assumption about the audience with the audience had better be right--or she'll lose credibility with at least part of the crowd.

- Stay calm: I always say that audiences are like dogs, because they can sense fear. At the same time, they really want you to succeed as a speaker and are looking forward to the chance that you'll entertain and engage them. An obviously nervous speaker puts the audience on edge, looking for a problem that may occur.
Make sure your speech preparations include time to understand your audiences, anticipate their needs and build opportunities for engagement into your approach to the crowd. For more information on myr presentation and speaker training, contact me at

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