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 — and isn’t sure why they should care about A, either — they won’t have much attention left to ponder the wonders of adding C.
What are they curious 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 type of bread? 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 get 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 “Say, what??!” 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 “cordless”) are different.
I need to back up and answer the Three Audience Questions before talking about how A compares with B (or vice versa):
What is it?
When you speak in public, you’ll often have a microphone. Two common types are the lavelliere (“lav”), which gets pinned to your lapel; and a cordless microphone that you hold in your hand.
What does it do?
Both of these microphones amplify your voice, but they can also change the way you deliver your talk. The lav moves with your body; it’s fixed and you don’t have to think about it. The cordless can be used as a prop, adding drama or focus to your talk.
Why do I care?
If you’re given a choice, pick the microphone that meets your needs. If you’re nervous about working with a mic, choose the lav. If you want more control of how you look and sound, choose the cordless.
We’re All Technical Speakers When We Talk About Our Own Work
You know those Three Audience Questions? I originally called them “The Three Tech 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 “technical” when we speak about the areas that we spend our 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!
Main image by Jehane
In 25 years of speaker coaching, I’ve helped my individual speaker coaching clients develop their strengths and skills to become authentic and effective communicators.
Along the way, I’ve developed tips for everything from small talk to speaking up in meetings, from managing fear to making an impact.
And now, I’ve shared it all in 100 Top Public Speaking Tips: The Book. This beautifully designed PDF booklet is searchable, clickable, and categorized, so that you can find what you need, instantly.