Whatever message you are bringing across on stage, if you ensure it is relevant to your audience, you can rarely go wrong. The question then is: who is actually in the auditorium opposite you? Which type audience are you presenting to? Here are four things you simply must know.
What you do not need to know about your audience is the number of people. It doesn’t matter if it is 120 or 1,200. The only difference is what you get out of it: if half of your audience becomes the ambassador of your idea or concept, a larger venue will potentially yield more. There are four things you do need to know in advance.
Factor 1 is the culture that your audience has in common. Is your audience a team of nursing staff celebrating an anniversary or are you speaking to a group of cryptocurrency investors? Those worlds can vary considerably. So you had better adjust your tone. Age is also a consideration. Your story requires a different tone-of-voice when addressing undergraduate students in Rotterdam to when appearing in front of a scouting association in West Friesland. All this without losing your natural style of course.
Factor 2: what are the expectations of the audience? Has each audience member paid €50 for an evening of entertainment? Or are you speaking at a town gathering protesting against the neighbouring power plant. The audience always has a certain expectation: they want joyful inspiration, or golden nuggets of advice, or a rousing call to action. Be very clear in what you are offering, preferably as soon as possible. Furthermore, with almost every presentation – excluding eulogies of course – one does hope for a helping of entertainment. You can take that one or leave it, however do consider it beforehand, improvising is definitely not an option.
Factor 3: what prior knowledge does the audience have? During a session conducted on a dairy farmers association day, everyone present knows what a ‘milk quota’ is. Do not explain that. However, when considering this factor from the opposite perspective, here’s where we often get it wrong. We expect the same assumptions from others as we are experiencing in our own head, while that’s actually not the case. At an ING staff symposium you might hear: “ING is a very loyal bank”. That might be correct, but hardly anyone listening fully appreciates the context. Perhaps try: “Together we can guarantee that Grandpa John can withdraw his total savings with interest after a forty year career in teaching.” This makes the concept of reliability more tangible for all employees.
Factor 4: this is about interaction. To what extent do you actively engage your audience in your story? You can start your performance with a question: “Do you remember who the most important guest was last night on Chelsea Handler?” If you want to prove that 90% of those that raised their hands were dozing, then this is the right tactic to use.
To finish: how do you deal with a question from the audience? Have you thought about this beforehand? They seem like simple considerations, but if you do not have to improvise all this on-stage, you end up feeling more confident.
Culture, expectations, assumed knowledge and interaction, that is what you need to know about your audience in advance. Compare your audience to your partner on the dance floor. If you know beforehand with whom you are going to tango – and you execute each step well – then it becomes a dance full of inspirational temptation and you will never forget your premise again.
All images in this blog are fragments from photos by ©Photostique in Maastricht, taken during TEDxMaastricht 2017. With many thanks.