The Pitfalls of Failing to Understand Your Audience

Two case studies from my conference organising days that show why it is vital to research your audience’s needs:

A speaker at the conference was a well-known celebrity. He is a very good speaker with valuable information to share. His signature style is very direct and to the point. Most audiences tolerate this style as part of his character and authority. Indeed some people find his style intoxicating.

He was addressing an audience of Consumer Relations Managers; people who spend their working days dealing with volatile customers and their complaints.  In his session he did not temper his manner of delivery, but was just as forthright and bombastic as normal. The audience found his style inflexible and arrogant. A large majority of the audience hated his presentation and documented this freely in their comments afterwards.

An eminent university professor presented a paper to an audience of industry managers in exactly the same manner that he would present to his students. The audience, professionals in their field, were looking for a different level of information and were distinctly uncomfortable with the speaker’s patronising manner. Instead of the presentation being a rewarding experi­ence for them it had the opposite effect. On the exit survey they documented another thumbs down result.But if the outspoken celebrity and professor had bothered to consider their audience then they could have enriched their connection with the audience.
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Friday Tips – Speakers Notes

I much prefer speakers to use memory prompts as speakers who read their speech frequently lose the life force of  delivering an audience grabbing presentation. Why, because they are tied to their printed word, often fearful of losing their place which invariably means they do leading to more discomfort behind the lectern.  Eye-contact is patchy as they try to keep on track. The speech controls them instead of them controlling the speech. But if you feel you must here are some tips for managing your speaking papers.

Type the speech with double space – use only the top half of A4 paper – (if you continue the text to the bottom of the page guess where your eyes go as you read it) It is important to maintain eye contact – read a sentence, use your finger to keep on track and look up at the audience come back to your place, read a sentence…….. Use a highlighter to score beginning of fresh point being made.  Number each page clearly at the top right hand corner.  Practice moving the presented page smoothly across to one side or place behind the other notes. Don’t forget to rehearse it, time it, pace it. 

I recommend Memory Prompts – one liners that take you from point to point.  Write the speech in its entirety and then rehearse it using a highlighter to indicate each point, not complete sentences, just the nuts and bolts of the point. Retype the points in double spacing. Number the prompts clearly. Rehearse using the prompts and checking with the speech notes.  File the speech. Rehearse using the prompts only. Rehearse using the prompts only until it runs smooth, reviewing any stumbling blocks and rewording in language you are comfortable with. Rehearse and time it.  Ready to go get em!

What’s Not to Worship?

We moved from the white-hot of midday sun into the cool dimness of the Basilica of San Frediano in Lucca.  Our Italian tour guide was a young woman, who knew far too much history for her own good and wanted desperately to share it with the world.   Her voice now barely a whisper detailed the faded frescos and the 12 century marble baptismal font as we quietly wound our way through the side chapels.

She waited patiently in the side chapel of St. Zita until all the group were present.  There was renewed determination as she spoke of the artifacts and paintings.  We had been walking and ingesting Lucca for over three hours. The majority of were simply pleased to sit, pushing shoes off our sore feet as we sought the coolness of the marble floor.  Our guide’s history lesson was overwhelming, ticking off the centuries  while our thoughts fantasized on  a coffee and shopping break.  She sensed she had lost us but then she played her Saint Zita trump card. Deliberately she stepped away from the front of the altar, with a cliché gesture of game show host she indicated the brightly lit glass sarcophagus behind her.   Where the rest of the church was dim illuminated only by rose-red pools of light or iron stand banks of flickering candles, the glass case was rudely lit, neon bright like a cheap side show.  There  on a bed of brocade was the mummified remains of an ancient, once, woman, now only a  leather black corpse dressed in white with a circlet of dusty plastic flowers in her thin wispy red hair. The guide  had our attention. And with that my weakened enthusiasm for absorbing yet another church or monument was dealt a fatal blow.

IMGP1605The only iconic place of worship –  that I have experienced –  that I found uplifting  and gave a sense of spiritual freedom was Gaudi’s Cathedral Sagrada Familia.  Is it because of Gaudi’s  imaginative architecture compared to predictable medieval or gothic  buttressed church naves? Those darkened hallows have a heaviness that dampens my spirits whereas  Gaudi’s cathedral is a lightness of towering space that triggers the imagination to explore it with the spiritual innocence of a  child. May be Gaudi paid heed to the biblical quote  ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’

I love history but sleuthing around a church attempting to retain  a potted knowledge of patrons, saints and bishops while viewing the stained glass windows, a hand-carved lectern from a single oak tree, an alabaster madonna and child is not for me and irrefutably not some horror movie mummified relic in a glass case.

To me the natural elements of earth, sea and sky provide my altar for a conversation with a higher source. What about you?

Friday Tips for Speakers – Praise of the Pause

The Pause, a  second or two without speaking, is one of the most powerful elements you can use in speech delivery.

The Pause is to public speaking as a verbal underline or CAPS’ are to writing. Use it to emphasise your point or to add drama to your words.

The Pause will quiet a noisy audience.  Remember the school teacher who could quell a noisy class with a long cool look at the students. An over enthusiastic question time can rattle a speaker and it can get uncomfortable at the podium. Maintain quality eye contact while employing an extended pause and you will be able to take back control.  Bonus of the mute seconds is that it gives you time to think of a diplomatic or courteous answer.

The Pause is an effective tool when you are presenting a workshop. In your introduction to the workshop explain that when you need to recapture the group’s attention, following an interactive session, you will stop talking and raise your arm.  They in turn should stop speaking and raise their arm until the whole room becomes quiet. Works like magic.

At the lectern, just before you speak, Pause, make eye contact and smile. Try it – you will find the audience will reward you with a boost of pure welcoming energy.

Friday Tips – Know Your Audience

Who, why,what & when – getting your Audience to love you

Who are your audience?  

You need to appreciate how your audience is made up. What age range does the audience fit into? Do they all have a common interest?

Why are they at this occasion?

Is it work related or for relaxation? What is the unifying factor that bring them together?

What is the occasion?

You need to understand the significance of the occasion and how you can make your speech relevant or themed to the event or organisation.

When is the speech to be given?

The time of day will affect the response of the your audience.  Breakfast meetings audiences  you will find generally their retention of real information is at its peak.  An after lunch or dinner audience filled with good food, wine and company will be relaxed and looking for humour. Conference audiences are a there for a purpose and so will make the effort to retain information delivered but early afternoon audiences definitely flag.  Time for a speaker to preface their presentation by getting the audience to do a gentle physical stretch or two.

Whatever the time of the day audiences will always respond to humour and if it is self deprecating even more so.

Friday Public Speaking Tips – Telling Your Story

microphone
Your Running Mate

 

Telling your story is  a powerful strategy to connect with your audience. A motivational speaker will use their personal story to preface and enhance the core message of their presentation. But opportunities for telling your story are not limited to motivational speaking often speakers are called upon to talk about themselves or their work.    3 tips  for an effective presentation.

Planning the content – what are the pivotal parts of your story that uplift, illuminate or demonstrate who you are.  Remember that the audience does not need to know the warts ‘n all boring bits

Develop the key points of the story.  It is not enough to say I was an dyslexic child with low self-esteem, flesh it out more, give the audience examples of how it felt.  Have the courage to be in touch with your emotions. Audiences respond always to truth, honesty and authenticity.

Respect the telling of your story –   it has valuable life  lessons that you have learned so give it the respect it deserves.  Slow your pace, use fearless eye-contact  and pause for emphasis.  Rehearse and rehearse the speech until flows easily.  A little self-deprecating humour is a great ingredient to add to the mix if the material is overwhelming.

 

I want to join the circus

I love the circus. Cirque du Soleil has trounced all of the homespun touring circuses of the recent past with their reliance on animal acts of lions, tigers and bejewelled elephants. Recently I visited the oldest touring circus in Australia. Joseph Ashton founded the family circus dynasty in 1853 and today the family has adapted the traditional acts to encompass new skills of physical daring.

Over the past two decades animal activists have lobbied hard to secure the release of performance animals from circuses. The Ashton family was faced with change or perish. now they have only two animal acts – dogs and stallions. Instead the circus family members from toddlers upwards pride themselves on a range of acrobatic, wire walking, juggling, trapeze and clown skills. Their tight little community multi tasks from box office duties, ring maintenance and selling hot chips and popcorn. All dedicated, all focused to continue the life of entertaining their audience. They will do what it takes to upscale their skills and come up with new acts to replace old, to compete with the high-tech glamour of Cirque du Soleil.

One act performed on the slack wire I found encapsulated the joy of a circus performer, with each new daring feat I saw how present in the moment the performer had to be to maintain his balance. The circus community pulls together and whether they are practicing or performing they are in the moment. In the joyful moment of who they are. In the moment that’s when we step into our power.