Master the arts of creating and performing talks

It isn’t about you!

What do these three articles have in common?

  • Amy Dinning ( wrote about networking. She said that if you want to be a successful networker, before attending an event find out who will be there and do some research online to find out about them. (TD Magazine, August 2017)
  • Phylise Banner ( wrote about content strategy and how to target content for a specific community. She suggested creating learner personas based on surveys or interviews with learners to find out their preferences, attitudes, motivations, and so on. (TD Magazine, August 2017)
  • Howard Pitler ( wrote about six questions teachers should ask their students on the first day of school such as what are you passionate about, what is your greatest strength, and what characteristics do you want in a teacher.

I found all of those articles as I was reading yesterday, and I realized that all of them are about Step One: Analyzing the Audience.

Readers of Own Any Occasion know that there are two parts to being an impressive speaker: one, creating a good message and then two, delivering the message well. There is no point in speaking if you don’t have something worth saying. There is no point in having something worth saying if you can’t say it well. The three articles above all refer to an aspect of creating a message. Before speakers ever open their mouths, I wrote that there are five steps needed to take to make sure the talk will be well-received. The first step is to analyze the audience. I am surprised at how often speakers underestimate the importance of this. Indeed, some speakers never even think about it, yet all talks are doomed if the audience analysis isn’t done. All three of the articles are really telling readers the same thing: find out about the folks you’ll be talking to.

It is quite common for managers, trainers, teachers, and salespeople to have content they must cover. The employees/trainees/students/buyers must be told about the new procedures/safety regulations/sales promotion/whatever and so that’s that. The content is the content, and it must be presented. Pretty PowerPoint slides are made; another handout for the binder is created; an evaluation form with smiley face/frowny face is run off; and the text of the talk/lesson is prepared with all the important information. Then the thought is, “I covered it so I’m done.” Unfortunately, this forgets the most important people, the audience. Did the listeners get it? Was there an impact? You know that way too often the answer is “No.” So what went wrong? The speakers only thought about themselves as they prepared: what do I have to say? Big mistake.

All talks are for an audience. That audience may be one person, a few, or many, but the audience must be understood before any other preparation takes place. What do they know? What do they need to know? What do they want to know? What mood are they in? What are their interests? What filters/mind-sets do they have? (A baby-boomer with 28 years of experience “hears” messages differently than a Gen-Xer with 8 months of experience even though the words spoken were the same.) All three articles feel the need to remind their readers about Step One: before a word is spoken out loud, it is critically important to know about the people being addressed. Implied is that once you know who they are, you must make adjustments to your talk.

  • Adjust your language. What level of vocabulary is appropriate?
  • Adjust your style. Should you be formal or informal?
  • Adjust your look. What will the listeners be expecting?
  • Adjust your content (Part A). Is it all necessary? (No.) What will the listeners be able to grasp right now?
  • Adjust your content (Part B). What can you add that connects you and your content to their lives?
  • Adjust your expectations. Realistically, will all listeners respond exactly as you hope?

Every talk is more effective if it is adapted to the audience. It may seem difficult to accept, but listeners are your number one concern, not your topic. Amy, Phylise, and Howard want us to know that.