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Alberta, Canada
Family Law Lawyer, Professional Speaker & Author

Monday, 28 May 2012

Know Your Audience Part 2: The First Step to Captivating Speaking!

It is absolutely critical to your speaking success that you captivate your audience’s attention.  In order to successfully captivate and sustain the attention of your audience, you must maintain an ongoing awareness of your audience during your presentation.  However, you ought to have been considering your audience long before you take the floor.  In fact, it is important for you to spend some time thinking about your audience prior to preparing your material.  As it is true that a comedian should not tell the same jokes to a class of elementary students as she would to a group of night club patrons, it is just as true that your material and delivery should be as tailored as possible to your particular audience.  Here are the three key steps to zeroing in on your audience’s particular characteristics in a manner that will help you to deliver a speech with impact that keeps everyone’s eyes and ears on you the whole time.
Step 1:  The Background Research
Know Your Audience
Although it may not always be possible to know who will be in your audience, it is most probable that you will have a general idea of the number of people attending, their general backgrounds, their goals and interests for attending and perhaps even some general demographic information.  Take some time to think about who will be in your audience and why they will be listening to you.  Will the audience be looking for entertainment, education or inspiration?  Do the audience members share a similar professional background? 
Know Your Context
You should also be sure not to dismiss the importance of gathering information on the context of your presentation.  Will you be appearing at a professional conference or a casual gathering? As you prepare, always keep in mind the appropriate tone for your context and audience.   Will your presentation be one of many, or the only one?  If you are presenting at an event with many speakers, what time of the day will you be presenting?  If you are at the end of the day, or just before a meal break, you may need to pay greater attention to ensuring that your presentation starts out lively and maintains a very high level of energy.  How many people will be in attendance?  Will you need to use a microphone or multimedia?  Will you have time to have a question and answer component and if so, how will you structure it given the number of audience members?
Take the time during your preparation to imagine how to ensure that your presentation will be relevant, informative, entertaining and appropriate for your audience.  Good speakers never deliver the same presentation with the same style of delivery in different situations
Step 2:  Preparing your Material and AV for Your Audience
Have you decided that you will be using a microphone or multimedia?  If these details are your responsibility, you must communicate your needs to the event co-ordinator.  Ask about the size and set-up of the room, and be detailed about the type of equipment that you require.  Make sure to follow up on the confirmation a few days prior to your presentation.  When you arrive at the venue, try to have time to test the equipment with your materials to ensure that everything runs smoothly, the visual aids appear properly on the screen and that the sound volume is appropriate for the room and audience number.  If possible, travel with your own back-up equipment in case the venue’s equipment fail to work or synchronise with your equipment.
If you will be circulating documents, make sure that you have thought about a system for this or will be using assistants.  Don’t  let paper shuffling detract from your performance or interrupt the flow of your delivery.
Decide if you will be presenting from a podium or if you’ll be moving around.  If you are doing a very short presentation, if your context requires it, or if you like to have written materials in front of you to present from (more on that in a later post!), you may want to use a podium.   If you don’t want to be stuck standing stationary behind a podium, and you’re presenting in a large room or to a large audience, ask for a lavalier microphone so you can move around.   You can still have your notes set on a podium or table, but this way you can stray from one spot during your presentation.  Just don’t forget to take it off before you take a break or go to the restroom - there are already too many audio clips of that scenario! 
Step 3:  Observing the Audience
The importance of knowing your audience doesn’t stop once your presentation begins. I guarantee that if you don’t pay attention to your audience, they won’t pay attention to you.    As you speak, you should be monitoring your audience very closely to note their interest level and their reaction to your material.  Watch to see the signs that your audience is drifting away such as, looking around the room, watching out the windows, talking to each other, moving around or generally not focusing their attention on you.  Do not ever make the mistake of focusing only on one or two people in the audience, unless you have an audience of only one or two.  You can gauge whether you need to pace faster or slower, leave a topic, spend more time on a topic, inject some humour, or even take a break depending on the energy level and attention of the audience.  Be dynamic and responsive to your audience and they will respond back by listening to you.  Just like any good relationship, public speaking is a connection between you and the other party.  To captivate your audience, you must be aware of and responsive to, their needs and interests.    
Final Thought: 
Remember, you can strengthen your professional or public speaking presentation by ensuring that you’ve paid attention to your audience before you prepare your materials as well as remaining receptive and responsive to the audience during your delivery.  Captivating, engaging public speaking is dynamic, so stay alert and responsive.  Your audience will thank you for it!
Feel free to send me your comments or questions, which I will feature in future posts.

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