Every message has an audience. (If no one hears it, is it really a message?) No matter what form of communication you use, you will be more successful at reaching hearts and minds if you understand who your audience is and their mood, mindset and perspective.
Of course, any audience of more than one person is composed of individuals, but if you can know the general feeling and thinking of the group, you will be able to tailor your message for maximum impact.
As a professional speaker, I have discovered just how important it is to know your audience. Below are some of the methods that have proven successful.
What should you know?
Demographics - You should adjust your delivery based on factors like age, sex, geography. For example, when I was performing as a professional magician, I had a card trick that I used for both adult and kid audiences. Same “message” but I presented it very differently depending on the group.
Similarly, when I am speaking to an audience of mostly men I have a different approach than for women. It’s not a huge difference - it’s still the same message - but certain types of engagement work better depending on the gender make-up.
Be careful not to assign negative stereotypes to a group based on demographics. It's easy to fall into that trap. Seek to understand them as a group, but treat them as individuals.
Mood - A couple of days prior to my very first speaking program, someone in the organization I was speaking to had died unexpectedly. Worse yet, the funeral was taking place ON THE SAME DAY as my presentation. There was a palpable cloud of sadness hanging over the room. Realizing this, I toned down my energy at the beginning and acknowledged what everyone was feeling. That set an appropriate tone before I launched into my program.
Mindset - Does the level of your content match the knowledge of your audience? I present my program on problem solving differently for a group of senior executives than for high school students.
Has the group identified themselves with an ideology? As a speaker, I try to make people challenge their beliefs and to think differently. But if there is a fixed mindset, I need to tread lightly because if they are vehemently opposed to an idea, they will tune me out.
Perspective - It’s important to put yourself in the audience’s shoes and to try to see what they see.
For example, many magic tricks are angle-sensitive - meaning that someone watching from the side or from behind would see the secret to the trick. So stage magicians need to understand what angles do and don’t work. A common method is to rehearse with someone sitting in the seats most likely to have a bad angle. Close-up magicians practice in front of multiple mirrors so they can see what the audience sees from various angles.
For you non-magicians, understanding the audience’s perspective is just as important. If I wear a suit and tie to present my talk, that will create an impression. If the audience is a group of c-suite executives, they would have a more positive reaction to a suit than a group of outdoor enthusiasts.
How to find out
Before communicating with a group, do some research on that group and their industry or domain. Find out what their values and goals are, as well as the challenges they face.
Also, talk to someone in the group and ask questions. I always schedule a pre-event call with my clients to learn about common issues they may be struggling with and the state of the organization and industry.
Additionally, I make it a point to spend some time at the event with the audience prior to my presentation. It’s surprising how much it helps to spend a little time talking with folks, even just chatting over lunch, as I can glean a great deal about their mood, mindset, etc. Just be sure not to put too much stock in just one individual’s perspective. They may just be having a bad day.
During your delivery, you need to be able to read the room. Pay attention to how they respond audibly and with their body language. I know of a speaker who always tells a specific joke in their opening segment. By gauging the response of the audience to that joke, she knows how to proceed with the rest of her talk.
In summary, the better you know your audience, the better you will be able to connect with them and make your message resonate. That connection will also make the experience more fun for you and your audience.
Think well - live well.
- Steve Haffner, speaker and illusion expert
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