As speakers, we tend to focus so much on content and delivery that we forget one of the most important elements that help make our speech truly effective – the audience!
If we don’t keep our audience in mind while writing and preparing for the speech, even if the content and delivery is superb, the speech’s overall impact will fall flat.
Before writing your speech, ask this question to yourself – why would the audience care about my message?
Think about who you will be speaking to. If they are a bunch of senior citizens, talking to them about the importance of college won’t really be applicable. I know, it sounds really obvious!
But it’s surprising how many times I have seen speakers give great speeches but are completely out of context for their audience.
Every speech needs to be designed to communicate a particular message to a particular audience. No message can appeal to all audiences.
To learn how to tailor-make a speech for different audiences, I have found Acumen Presents: Chris Anderson on Public Speaking (hosted on Udemy) to be super helpful online course! Being the founder of TED, Chris Anderson shares stories from numerous stage experiences which helps in giving us a very practical view of how to craft a powerful speech. Check it out if you’re serious about taking your public speaking to the next level.
So, let’s look at how you can know your audience better and structure a speech accordingly.
Context would be the most important aspect to look upon when it comes to understanding your audience.
Think about where you are going to be speaking – is it a classroom, is it a corporate, is it a Toastmasters meeting or is it a conference?
Understanding where you will be speaking and the reason an audience is attending that particular talk is key to delivering a speech that appeals to that audience.
A woman giving a toast at her best friend’s wedding will be humorous, entertaining and personal as opposed to being inspirational or persuasive.
Compare that to the same women giving a TED talk. Now, she will be more formal and have a much more structured manner of speaking.
Knowledge of the audience
Knowing your audience involves understanding what the audience already knows.
For example, if you are an expert in digital marketing and have been called to give a talk on the same subject, knowing how well versed your audience is with digital marketing will play an important role in deciding the structure and content of your speech.
If the audience includes old people or professionals from a completely different field, you may need to keep your speech a lot more basic.
Many things that you may feel are common knowledge might be completely new concepts to them.
If they are already familiar with digital marketing, you can straight off get to the point of your speech, use more industry lingo and the way you speak and interact with the audience will be different.
A few years ago, I had participated in a speech contest where I delivered my speech to a huge crowd of people. The speech went quite well since I had rehearsed keeping in mind that I will be speaking to a large audience.
A few weeks later, I was asked to deliver the same speech at a different venue. This time, the venue was small. The audience had a crowd of barely 20 to 25 people.
When I started delivering my speech, I wasn’t being able to connect very well with the audience. I could feel myself being very overpowering (which is not a good sign). This was because I had practiced my speech for a large stage and audience.
The way we speak to a large audience is a bit different from how we speak to a smaller group of people. When we are in front of a smaller group, we don’t need to be very loud. A smaller audience gives us the opportunity to be more intimate and informal.
Think about where you will be delivering your speech and what the approximate size of the audience will be. Keep this in mind when you’re rehearsing. It will change the way you deliver your talk in subtle but effective ways.
I wanted to include this point separately since I have made the mistake of delivering a speech meant for the youth to an audience consisting of 40 year olds. Knowing the age of your audience will help you draft the main takeaway.
For instance, I talk a lot about millennials. My speeches are designed mainly for millennials.
But now, when I know I’ll be speaking to an older audience, I don’t change my entire speech, just the end takeaway. I add in a takeaway for people who are not millennials.
So, if I’m talking about how stressed out millennials get in this fast-moving world, I’ll add in how the older generation can help millennials cope with this stress.
This makes the entire speech much more relatable to the audience I am speaking to.
When you know more about your audience and what they want, you’ll be able to tailor your speech to make it more valuable for them.