February 2023
The Leading Edge - Taking Care of Business
Public Speaking: Put Your Audience First


Public Speaking: Put Your Audience First

Never mind the length; focus on the quality. Often speeches are too long because speakers are pontificating; their primary goal is to showcase their extensive knowledge. How often have you sat and listened to a speech or presentation, willing it to end soon—before you die of boredom? How often have you attended a conference or a corporate retreat and come away with little that was worthwhile or that will help move you toward your goals?

Next time you have the opportunity to address an audience, take a different approach. Think about your audience’s needs and wants, and base your presentation on information that will help them meet their objectives. As a speaker, your appearance at an event or a meeting is more about them than you. Figure out why they are attending the event at which you are speaking. What are they expecting to get out of it? Once you understand their motives, you will be in a better position to talk in a way and about topics that they will embrace.

You may be standing on the stage or at the podium, but you are in service to your audience. Devolve your power to the people sitting in front of you. Putting their needs first will guarantee that your speech is well received. It ensures you will stand out from other presenters.

How do you do this? Study your target audience before you prepare your presentation. If you are speaking at a conference, contact the organizer and ask them what they think the top three pieces of information people in their target audience need. Ask for a list of attendees, then call half a dozen and ask what takeaways they are hoping for.

Assess your prospective audience:

  • Who are they?
  • What positions do they hold?
  • What responsibilities do they have?
  • What do they have to deliver daily to satisfy their bosses?
  • What keeps them awake at night?
  • How educated are they on the topic you will be discussing?
  • How can you help them do whatever they do better?
  • How can you help them be successful?

If this seems like a formidable task, pull back a little and think about the one or two things, based on your experience, that you can tell them that will top the list of their critical takeaways from the event.

Here’s a trick to ensure your presentation doesn’t become too long and dense. First, give yourself free rein and create your speech or presentation without editing. Add in every piece of information you think might be helpful. Always bear in mind the educational level of your audience regarding your subject matter. Don’t talk down to your audience, but don’t talk way over their heads.

Now, imagine it’s the day before the event; the organizer contacts you and tells you that they have had to cut your time by 75% due to unforeseen circumstances. Yikes! What do you do? Take a long look at the audience profile you have built and then look closely at your presentation and identify which three points, or pieces of information, are crucial to the typical attendee. Those are the key takeaways your audience needs. Focus on them, and you will focus on your audience, not yourself.

The rest of the information may still be helpful, but is it more filler than meat? If you are interested in developing a relationship with your audience, offer them ways they can follow up with you to learn more post-event.

What do experts often say? Less is more.

Public Speaking: Put Your Audience First


The Power of Appreciation

People want to feel appreciated and valued – it’s a powerful human trait. However, in our frantic business lives, we often don’t fully recognize the people with whom we come into contact. We may not be rude exactly, but it is easy to be offhand or dismissive without realizing it, especially if the individual appears unimportant.

Consider, for a moment, the people with whom you interact during any given week. This list probably includes customers, employees, suppliers, receptionists, salespeople, bank clerks, managers, and from a personal perspective, your spouse, kids, friends, family, doctor’s and dentist’s offices; the list is almost endless. That’s a large number of individual contact points. Each interaction can improve your day, further your business interests, hamper them, or increase or decrease personal life pressures. Conversely, you can influence every one of those people positively or negatively.

Example One

Let’s look at a few examples. You plan to meet with a potential new customer. You met Jim Johnson recently at a chamber mixer, and you are passing his office, so you decide to call in. You walk up to the front desk person and say, “Please tell Mr. Johnson that Bill Peters is here to see him,” turn and sit down. The receptionist walks off and, a few minutes later, comes back and, without smiling, says, “Mr. Johnson is busy at the moment; perhaps you could make an appointment for some time next week?” Disappointed, you make an appointment.

What transpired behind the scenes? “Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Johnson, but there’s a man here to see you. He doesn’t have an appointment.”

“Well, Pat, as you came back here to tell me, rather than pick up the phone, I sense you are not impressed.”

Pat smiles, “I wasn’t; he was somewhat dismissive and just expected that you’d drop everything and see him. He never smiled and just plonked himself down in reception. I felt he looked down on me as just the hired help.”

Bill wasn’t rude; he didn’t do anything wrong; it's just that he wasn’t particularly friendly toward Pat and didn’t value her role in the company.

Let’s look at how he could have approached the situation better. Once at the reception desk, he might have smiled and said, “Hi, how are you today? What a pleasant reception area; I love all the plants. I’m sorry to drop in unannounced, but I met Mr. Johnson last week at the chamber mixer, and he said if I was passing, to pop in and say hi. If he’s busy, I don’t want to disturb him.”

In this scenario, Pat might have simply picked up the phone and said, “Mr. Johnson, I have Bill Peters here to see you.” Or, she might have gone to his office and said, I have Bill Peters in reception; what a nice man. Have you got a moment to speak with him?”

In the first scenario, Mr. Johnson’s opinion of Bill fell; in the second, it rose. All because Bill showed a little respect and acknowledged Pat as a valuable member of the company.

Example Two

In our second example, Jennifer hired a graphic designer to refresh her corporate logo and marketing materials. She negotiated a reasonable price with Tom, the designer, who exceeded her expectations by delivering a fabulous new look on time, even though she changed the brief halfway through the project.

When Tom’s invoice arrives, Jennifer calls him and tells him she has a problem with the amount. Before Tom can defend the price, she tells him the invoice amount is too low, and she’d like him to increase it by 15% because he did such a good job.

Tom is amazed and has a newfound respect for Jennifer. Over the years, he goes out of his way to be available whenever she needs him, regardless of how busy he is.

Example Three

Our last scenario involves a more personal situation. Often, people complain about doctors’ receptionists being standoffish, rude, or dismissive. They don’t consider how stressful it is to deal all day with demanding patients who are worried and anxious.

Lucy is attending her first appointment with a new doctor. When she arrives at the clinic, she makes a point of smiling and making small talk with the receptionist, who looks harassed. After seeing the doctor, Lucy stops back at reception and thanks the receptionist, calling her by her name, “Thanks, Donna, I’m really pleased to be a patient here; you are all so nice.”

Over the next several months, Lucy always refers to Donna by name when phoning in or visiting the doctor. After several interactions, Donna reciprocates, “Hi Lucy, this is Donna; Doctor T has updated your prescription. I’ll get it over to your pharmacist straightaway.”

Now, when Lucy has an issue, she emails Donna, who, as a matter of urgency, goes out of her way to help Lucy.

Never underestimate the value of building relationships at every level. There is an added benefit; when you bring positive energy to those you meet, they, in turn, spread it to others, making the world a better place, one interaction at a time.

Public Speaking: Put Your Audience First


Coach's Corner - Crystal Ball Questions

Open-ended questions help shift thinking and allow people to explore different ideas from new perspectives. Sometimes called “what-if” questions, they encourage us to look at our habits or way of doing things from a fresh viewpoint to see if they are relevant in today’s world.

Just the act of asking these types of questions, will often lead to new and exciting directions. Even if this is not the case, and we decide to stay on our existing course, we have opened ourselves to other options.

“What-if” questions are a wonderful tool to help you work through the challenges you are facing as a business owner or manager. They allow thoughtful conversations, which explore ideas that may not have occurred to you previously. These hypothetical questions can help you think beyond your comfort zone and towards future possibilities.

When using “What-if” questions, you need to consider your goals and keep your overall vision in focus. When you ask yourself what is hindering you from achieving your goals, questions may immediately come to mind, such as: What if those barriers were not in front of you? How would you then approach the problem? What if you had unlimited funds? What if you had enough staff? What if you had enough time?

At other times, you may need to ask questions from the reverse point of view. What if there were limiting factors or that constraints? What if your clients were only willing to pay half of what you charge? How would you survive? What if your foundation product or service became unprofitable? What if your major client, or supplier went out of business? What if you needed to build a new website in a week? Any of these or other scenarios, whether real or imaginary, can make you shift your thinking.

Here are a couple of examples of “What-if” questions that may spark a healthy discussion in your businesses.

Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, once asked his Chairman/CEO, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?”

“[What] if you could go back in time five years, what decisions would you make differently? What is your best guess as to what decision you're making today you might regret five years from now?” -Patrick Lencioni, business author and speaker

The questions we ask are as important as the answers we give. They help us reach our goals or maybe change our goals. They help to define our business as we move forward.

What are the important “What-if” questions you need to ask yourself, your colleagues, and your staff?

Paul Abra, Motivated Coaching


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