You’ve Been Invited to Present, Now What? Part 1: Four things you should know about your audience before giving a speech

Being invited to speak or present is an incredible professional compliment and opportunity. While the content of your speech is of course key, so is being relatable to your audience in an engaging way. A one-size-fits-all speech is never as effective as one tailored to your audience. Engaging your audience is extremely hard to do if you do not do your research. You wouldn’t present on a topic you know nothing about, so why should you treat your audience any differently? While it isn’t realistic to believe that you can know everything about your audience members beforehand, here are four general questions you should ask the event host before developing your content so you can plan a presentation that will better connect with your audience:

1)  Who will be in the audience? Is the audience predominantly a certain profession? Is there a certain job function the audience members perform (i.e. human resources, operations, supply chain, etc.). This is also helpful to know to get a better understanding of their knowledge level on the topic and their angle of interests.

2) What is the average age range of the audience? This can be tricky to determine if the information cannot be provided. However, the type of organization and venue can be an indicator. While short and concise presentations of about 15 to 20 minutes are generally better received despite age, short presentations of 15 minutes, or even less, tend to resonate better with those under the age of 35, as that age group is known to have an even shorter attention span.

Knowing the general age of your audience can also help tailor the material and connect with the audience. Your chances of keeping your audience’s attention greatly increase if you are able to reference issues/trends/topics that are important to them.

3) The predominant gender of the audience?  If an audience is all male or all female, using gender related examples or analogies is a great way to keep them engaged. For example, when I was recently speaking to an all-female group of realtors about a particular challenge they face, I said, “We all know that is about as comfortable as putting a 7.5 size foot in a size six pump.” The women broke into laughter and loved it. But what if the audience had also had a few men in it as well? They may have smiled, but they would not have related to it and connected to me as well.

4) What is the cultural diversity of the audience? Is English the first language of everyone in the audience? If not, be sure to speak clearly and enunciate every word carefully. Even American Nationals who speak English fluently can have difficulty understanding what you are saying if you speak too fast, mumble or trail off at the end of sentences. This rule is true of all audiences, but even more so if English is not their native language. Also, be careful using American idioms and clichés. Telling your audience that something is “a piece of cake” or to “go out there and break a leg” will have many non-Americans scratching their head in confusion.

By taking these steps to tailor your presentation as much as possible, and practicing your delivery, your audience will be captivated and engaged. Next week I’ll share Part 2 of things you should know when preparing to give your next speech!

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