Somewhat annoyed, I asked my wife of only 18 months, “If you wanted it done that way then why didn’t you just ask me to put it over there from the start?” The resulting expression on her face told me I said something wrong. “What is that supposed to mean?” she shot back to me. “I just meant you could have told me that before I started.” I replied. “Well, you didn’t have to say it like that.” “Say it like what?” I asked. Then came the response I can’t forget. My wife played back what she heard from me and it sounded completely rude and hurtful. Is that what my wife heard when I made my first comment? When I think about it, I know I didn’t actually say it like that! I wish we had instant replay cameras so I could roll the tape and show her what I really said! Then I realized something… it doesn’t matter what I think I said to her. I don’t get to vote in this election, only she does. At this point, I could argue how I said something to her and how she was just exaggerating my tone to make her point, but that wouldn’t help our communication. It didn’t really matter what I said or even how I said it. I should have put the focus where it should have been all along, on her, my audience. It’s not what or how I say something to her that matters most, it’s what she hears that is most important.
When we speak to an audience of one or an audience of many, we tend to focus most of our preparation time on what we are going to say. As we gain more experience in public speaking and we receive more training and coaching, we begin to spend more time on how we are going to say something. We do this by working on our skills in word choice and well-constructed arguments, along with using the tone in our voice, pauses, and vocal inflections. These tools all provide powerful methods for the speaker to inform, inspire, and entertain audiences. But, these skills will not achieve your purpose for speaking if they are misplaced, misused, or misguided.
So how can you ensure the audience always gets what they came for? Don’t just focus on why you’re speaking; focus on why the audience is listening. You can do this by answering four simple questions before you begin the development of your message.
Question number one: Why is the audience listening?
Sure the speaker speaks for a reason, a goal, a purpose, but the more important question is, “Why did the audience show up?” What is the audience expecting from the speaker? What do they expect to gain or learn from attending? What do they want? The audience came for a reason. Give them what they came for and you will satisfy them every time. Know their expectation, then meet it or beat it.
Question number two: What do you want the audience to know when you are done?
What is the audience expecting to learn from attending your presentation? While it is true that some speakers speak to an audience to purely entertain them, in most cases, the audience expects to learn something from attending. Know what the audience wants to learn and then make certain you deliver the information with interpretations, explanations, and applications to develop their full understanding.
Question number three: What do you want the audience to feel about your topic?
In business we don’t often focus on feelings because this is business! We stay focused on the bottom line and making well-informed, logical decisions based on research. While you will get no disagreement from me on making informed decisions in business, we cannot discount the fact that we are speaking to humans. All humans have feelings, yes, even you. That is what makes us human. Do you want the audience to feel excited, proud, confident, humbled, appreciative, inspired? When you know the feelings you hope to generate, you can develop your message to align with those emotions.
Question number four: What do you expect the audience to do after attending?
If you give them what they came for, you have informed them thoroughly, and you have generated the desired feeling, the audience will want to know the next step. What do they need to do once they leave your meeting or presentation? What do you want them to do? When an audience can logically agree with your information and they have a feeling associated with it, they are much more likely to take the next step as long as they know what that is. Make sure you define that next step for them. The easier you make the next step, the more likely they are to take it.
The next time you are watching television, don’t step into the kitchen during the commercials. Instead, take note of the three elements all good marketers place into their 30-second presentations. Ask yourself these questions as you watch the commercial. What does this company want me to know about their company/product/service? What do they want me to feel about the product / service? What do they want me to do? When speaking to your audiences, never forget that your audience came for a reason. Give them what they came for! The speaker doesn’t speak for the speaker; the speaker speaks for the audience!
Russ Peterson Jr. is a professional speaker and international trainer for iSpeak, Inc. (www.iSpeak.com) and the co-author of Corporate Ovations: Your roadmap to more effective presentations. (www.CorporateOvations.com).
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