It’s All About the Audience!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

What do these three articles have in common?

  • Amy Dinning wrote a TD magazine article about networking. She said that if you want to be a successful networker, you should do something before attending an event: Find out who will be there and do some research online to learn more about the people you want to meet.
  • Phylise Banner wrote a TD magazine article 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 more.
  • Howard Pitler wrote a blog post 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 these articles as I was reading yesterday, and I realized they were all about what I call “Step 1: Analyzing the Audience.”
Readers of Own Any Occasion know that there are two parts to being an impressive speaker: creating a good message and 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, they need to take five steps 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 articles are really telling readers to learn 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, and buyers must be told about the new procedures, safety regulations, sales promotion, or whatever other critical information you are required to share. Pretty PowerPoint slides are made; another handout for the binder is created; an evaluation form with smiley faces and frowny faces is run off; and the text of the talk or lesson is prepared with all the important information. Then the attitude is, “I covered it so I’m done.” Unfortunately, this neglects 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 or mind-sets do they have? (A Baby-Boomer with 28 years of experience perceives messages differently than an entry level employee with eight months of experience, even though the words spoken were the same.) What will they be able to get out of the talk?

All three articles referenced at the beginning of this post remind their readers about step 1: before a word is spoken out loud; it is critically important to learn about the people being addressed. Implied is that once you know who they are, you must make adjustments to your talk. Consider the following:

  • 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. Is it all necessary? What will the listeners be able to grasp right now?
  • Adjust your approach. What can you add that connects you and your content to the listeners’ 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, and I do too, which is why I wrote Own Any Occasion.

About the Author
Erik Palmer is an author, speaker, and consultant from Denver, Colorado. He focuses on improving oral communication—whether one-on-one, small group, large group, informal or formal, in-person or digital—by sharing practical, understandable ideas that help all adults become effective speakers and teachers of speaking. Erik previously spent 10 years managing an office for a prominent commodity brokerage firm, where he was the national sales leader), and trading on the floor of a Chicago commodity exchange. He also taught in one of Colorado’s premier school districts for 21 years, and was named a Teacher of the Year. A frequent presenter at conferences, Erik has given keynotes and led workshops for adults across the United States and around the world. He is the author of the ATD Press book, Own Any Occasion, as well as Well-Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students, Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology, Teaching the Core Skills of Listening & Speaking, Researching in a Digital World , and Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning. Erik has a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and a master’s degree from the University of Colorado, Denver. 
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