Online Public Speaking

Training & Practice

Understanding Your Audience

Now that you’ve created a plan of action, established the right motivations, and found something you’re passionate about, it’s almost time to write your presentation. There’s one more critical element for us to explore before we start creating your winning speech: The audience.


To understand the audience, keep in mind that the majority of presentations in this world fall into these categories: Promotion of the speaker or the speaker’s cause, eliciting a response from an audience, or both.


For example, think about the vast majority of political speeches you’ve heard. They include tons of self-promotion, and they seek to get votes or affect change.


For another example, the Academy Awards has plenty of speeches that try to make others feel appreciated (a response) for their help, or showcase the speaker basking in the glow of the award (a form of self promotion). 


Both of these audience specific goals are generally fine. There’s usually nothing wrong with some self promotion or trying to get a response, as long as there is relevance to the situation and the goals.


However, there’s a more powerful, yet often ignored, audience related goal:


A great speech should give something valuable to the audience and empower the audience to do something with that information.


This is closely tied to “getting a response”, to be sure, but it’s not the same. The audience should decide what they want to do with the information, not the speaker. Imagine how the world would be if political speeches were like this; instead of politicians self promoting and trying to manipulate the audience into supporting the speaker’s agenda, wouldn’t it be a dream come true if our political candidates just got up on the stump and provided the FACTS and let the audience decide what to do with them?


Now, some might argue that the audience isn’t always the expert and therefore they should not be left to decide what to do with the information.  In some instances, that might be true, but in general we find that position somewhat insulting. 


Let’s go back to the wedding toast: It’s not about you, right?  If you’re more focused on yourself and the reaction you’re trying to obtain from the audience, you’ll be much less effective than if you’re focused on the subjects of the speech.  Simply getting up and giving some heartfelt information about the bride and groom is really the best goal of all. (More on wedding toasts later).


Some experts out there might also be appalled that we’re saying giving information is more important than getting a response. We’re not saying that getting a response is not important, just that it’s ultimately a more generous and effective process to focus on giving something more than on getting something.


There’s an old saying that works here: Give and you shall receive. Give something to the audience in an untainted, genuine way.  It is a far better approach than standing up there calculating how to force or convince them to do something – especially if you appear to be calculating their response. Remember our discussions about intrinsic and extrinsic motivations?  This is the flip side to that: help the audience become intrinsically motivated about your subject rather than trying to extrinsically motivate them to comply. 


Consider the phenomenon of the World Wide Web. The web revolutionized the world through the sharing of information that often drives beliefs and behavior. This is happening because that sharing of information is easier than ever.


People in the most remote corners of the globe now have access to abundant information. Today, we all have the option of assembling and cataloging information in our own way and for our own purposes more than at any other time in history.


There’s a wonderful lesson to be learned when it comes to the web: Sharing, or giving, information has become extremely commonplace, even expected, yet it is extremely powerful.  


As you head towards your next presentation, decide what your goal is for the audience.  Is it appropriate for you to do some self-promotion?  Do you want to influence the audience to respond in a certain way?  Or would simply giving the audience valuable information serve the highest purpose?


Consider these questions:


1)      Who is my audience?


2)      What is my goal?


3)      What is their goal?


4)      What do they expect to hear?


5)      Should I self promote?


6)      Should I try to get a response out of them?


7)      Should I just give them information?


Now, with those answers in mind, choose your approach (more than one can apply).


1)      I want to get a response from my audience. I want them to_________________.


2)      I need to let the audience know who I am. I want them to know this about me:_____________________.


3)      I want to share information with the audience. Specifically, I want them to know ________________.


Please understand that there’s not necessarily a wrong answer when it comes to these.


Just think about the nobility that comes from giving to the audience—giving them something of value and encouraging them to formulate their own opinions.  Rely on your content and your passion to communicate a message, and avoid being self-serving.  There’s a big difference between sharing your opinion in a way that will help others to grow, and trying to manipulate the listeners.  Make the right choice.


With this information about what your audience wants and what you want, it’s time to move on to what you’ll actually say in your next presentation!