Most of my one-on-one speaker coaching clients are smart, ambitious people. No surprise there, because smart, ambitious people are the ones who want to become better public speakers.
But sometimes being smart can work against you — and the prime example is when your audience doesn’t know what you’re talking about.
I mean, really doesn’t know.
An example that I give my clients when I’m helping them walk in their audience’s shoes is:
I’m here today to speak with you about how lavs are great for gestural freedom, but a cordless gives you more directional focus.
It’s Not Public Speaking If the Audience Doesn’t Understand What You’re Saying
That example sounds ridiculous; and yet, the smarter you are, the more likely you are to do something similar without even noticing it.
That’s how we get speeches that start with the equivalent of this thought:
I’m here today to talk about how B improves on A by adding Capability C.
The speaker thinks that he or she is being transparent (after all, you just told them what your topic is going to be, right?), but if your audience doesn’t know what B is — let alone how it improves on A — they won’t have much attention for the wonders of adding C!
So what are they wondering about?
Your Audience Is Probably Wondering These Three Things
- What is it? (And I mean that very literally: Is “B” a website? Is it a product? Is it an idea?)
- What does it do? (Again, be literal: Does “B” exist to educate users? Track your cholesterol level? Vacuum the carpet?)
- Why do I care? (I know that public speaking skills will help you win more career success and satisfaction. Unfortunately, because that’s so obvious to me, I might forget to mention it, and leave a listener wondering why the heck she needs public speaking skills anyway!)
Nothing that you tell an audience can really be useful to them until you’ve answered these Three Audience Questions (or verified that your audience already knows the answers).
Let The Three Audience Questions Guide Your Public Speaking
In my “Duh” example above (“Lavs are great for gestural freedom, but a cordless gives your more directional focus”), notice that I’ve started my discussion with how two unknown things (“lavs” and “cordlesses”) are different.
To make this comment (and the speech that follows) comprehensible to an actual audience, I need to back up and answer the Three Audience Questions before talking about how A compares with B (or vice versa).
Here’s how that discussion might sound (and notice that I answer the Audience Questions twice, first re: my general topic, and then re: my specific point).
When you speak in public, you’ll generally have to use a microphone. [“Microphone” answers what is it?]
Even if you have a loud voice, a microphone can make your job much easier, by taking away any doubt that you’re going to be heard. [That’s what it does; it takes away doubt that you’ll be heard.] Instead of having to work to produce sound, you’ll have more energy to focus on your audience, and that’s a good thing! [That’s also why you should care.]
Now, most people prefer to use the microphones that pin onto your lapel or collar. You’ve probably seen these — they’re called “Lavelliere” mikes, or “lavs” for short. [This is my second, more specific round of what is it?]
But I’m going to argue that a hand-held microphone, particularly one that’s cordless, is a better choice for many speakers.
Why? Because —while a lav frees your hands and makes it easier to gesture — a cordless, hand-held microphone provides some equally important benefits.
The main benefit that I want to discuss is this: If you use a cordless, handheld mike correctly, it almost forces you to address the audience in a more focused and directional way [a second, more specific what it does], which makes it easier for them to connect with you [why you should care].
We’re All Technical Speakers When We Talk About Our Own Work
You know those Three Audience Questions? I originally called them “The Three Techie Questions,” because they come up often with my IT, engineering, and life sciences clients.
But I’ve since noticed that all of us can get “techie” (in other words, obscure) when we speak about the areas where we’re experts.
- I can sound obscure when I get going about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
- Fundraisers can wax obscure about capital campaigns; lawyers about torts; marketing managers about channels, etc.
In fact, you can probably sound a bit obscure when you’re talking about whatever it is that you spend your days (and sometimes nights and weekends) working on. So,
- Take the Three Audience Questions to heart;
- Use them to slip into your listeners’ shoes;
- And explain the basics of your topic before you drill down to the finer points.
Your message will be clear — and your audience will be tracking with you, every step of the way!