If you thought giving a talk was about you, think again!
No matter how scintillating your information, if it’s not a perfect fit for your audience, they won’t hear you or your words.
While you have opportunity to influence when you speak, you don’t have total control. Audiences have free will! They can stay, leave, come back and these days change channel.
Let’s Define Audience
In 16th Century France, if you wished to speak to the Queen, you asked for an “audience”. The origin of the word means “to hear”. In the 21stcentury, “audience” retains its original meaning and refers to “assembled spectators at an event”. If the word “audience” sets your googlies rumbling, try swapping a synonym such as throng, gathering, company, group or my preference, “listeners”.
Is it just me or does “throng” sound like a gathering for a hanging, while “listeners” sounds like what you want from people when you speak! I notice that “gathering” is often used by the arts and literary crowd, “Mmm, we’re having a small gathering at the studio. Pino Grigio of course and some of that ash-dusted goat fetta.”
Why You Need an Audience
Without an audience, listener or friend you are just talking to yourself. And that’s OK if you like a one-sided chat. If you do have something you wish to say, share or promote publicly then you do need an audience. An audience however, does not need you.
It’s a privilege to speak to an audience. And don’t they know it! They want respect, rich content and to be emotionally lifted from the daily dross, connecting to something bigger. Yes, they want it all and they want it now. Read on to learn how to know and keep your audience.
Respect Every Audience as Unique
Audiences are diversely shaped and sized. On any given day, you may address:
- Workshop participants keen to learn new skills.
- Team meetings with colleagues who wait tiredly for your report.
- Board members whom you must persuade to accept your funding proposal.
- Children at the dinner table demanding to know why the beach party is cancelled.
- A room full of expectant listeners waiting to hear the answer to the meaning of life!
Research Audience Nitty Gritty
To understand what your audience needs, loves and wants, research to help you customise:
- Demographics: How old are they? What do they do for a living? Are they strangers?
- Psychographics: What do they care about? What are their common problems?
- Logistics: How big is the audience? Do they have special needs, like wheelchair access?
- Promotion: What are the best methods to reach and motivate them to attend?
- Learning Preference: How best do they absorb information? Visually? Doing? Discussion?
- Morale: What’s the mood of the audience? Excited? Bored? Do they want to be there?
Set and Exceed Audience Expectations
Who hasn’t been to a workshop that overpromised and under delivered? It’s irritating, disappointing and a waste of time. The best way to manage audience expectations is to be the one who sets the them. An audience will come and stay, if you deliver beyond your promise. Be clear about:
- Why this topic and its importance;
- Who will benefit from attending;
- What result they can expect to gain;
- How you will deliver the goodies to them.
Customise Fresh to Every Audience
Just like a restaurant, audiences desire fresh, authentic and good value dishes on the menu. They want to be entertained, informed and inspired. Inauthenticity repels and b*s* detectors are set on high. Listeners want you to be real, otherwise, how can they trust you?
- Entertain: Open with a juicy story your audience specifically cares about.
- Inform: Shower generously with rich, interactive content, case studies and results.
- Inspire: End by helping them to see rewarding change is within their grasp.
Appeal to Heart and Head of Your Audience
When an audience connects emotionally with your message, they feel it. When they see evidence and proof, they believe it. And when you give them a personal experience of it, they take ownership.
Help listeners take ownership by engaging deeply. Ask rhetorical questions, pause while they think. Look into their eyes and read their face, just as you would a one-to-one conversation. Facilitate interactive exercises, use physical props and invite questions. Listen and hear your audience.
Listeners do need more than data and a touching story. Most importantly they need to know WHY. “Why” gets you out of bed in the morning and connects you to the Big Picture. When people understand and care about the “why” of a topic, they take action because they want to. And that’s when your idea and message grows wings. It flies away to reach an even bigger audience.
Inspire Your Audience to Fly
It’s often quoted that only 2% of audiences follow through and get results. The other 98% think it’s a good idea and forget about it the next day. So how can you inspire your audience to fly into action?
Depending upon the situation, I advise my clients to start with answering the “why” to generate interest. Then stir emotionally to engage feelings, followed by solid evidence to satisfy the mind. Deliver interactively so listeners have a personal hands-on experience. Lastly, show the next steps to take. Make the pathway attractively simple to inspire immediate action.
The (He)Art of Audience
Often when we get asked to speak, we’re so caught up with ourselves, we forget the whole point is to communicate fabulously well to others. To help them understand, learn and grow. The Art of Audience is to know to whom you speak. To research, customise and exceed expectations. To entertain, inform and inspire.
With the art of audience, you’ll know how to deliver powerful talks that get under your listener’s skin, into their hearts, out of their chairs and into action. Ta daa!
(For further reading on working with Audiences, here’s links to a few of my other articles: Speak and Listen With Presence, The Radiantly Attractive Communicator, 3 Questions In The Mind Of Your Audience .