Be The Speaker You Want To Listen To
Do You Really Know Your Audience?
One rule of thumb that applies to almost every aspect of life is that just because something is simple, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy.
When I was faculty at the University of Pennsylvania for a decade or so, teaching in a master’s program for educators, one of the rules of thumb I constantly reiterated was, “be the teacher you wish you’d had.”
That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Yet so many of my students seemed to find it surprisingly difficult to apply in practice.
We can all recall boring lectures given by teachers and professors who seemed to be burnt out after years of teaching the same content day in and day out. For many, sadly, this seemed to be the rule rather than the exception.
But we can also recall those instructors who stood out, who made their subjects come to life, and lit a fire of curiosity and genuine interest in us that we never would have imagined possible in that subject.
This dichotomy is no different from what happens in corporate life.
When speaking to a group, whether in front of a camera, on stage or in the conference room, the seemingly simple rule of thumb is: be the speaker you’d actually want to listen to.
So why is it so difficult?
Whether professor or executive, it’s unlikely that most speakers aspire to be boring. Nobody actually wants to be remembered as the worst example of anything. But somewhere along the way, something gets lost in translation.
When you give a speech or presentation, facilitate a meeting, or even have a one-to-one conversation, what impression do you leave? Do you project confidence, approachability, authority, leadership, enthusiasm, and overall positive energy?
But what if you were sitting in the audience? Put yourself in their shoes (or seat, as the case may be.) What kind of speaker would you want to listen to? You’d probably use words like “inspiring,” “passionate,” “open” or “relatable.”
But in the vast majority of the meetings I’ve sat through, presentations I’ve seen and talks I’ve attended, the speaker comes across as under- or over-emotional, intense and unapproachable or bored (and boring), or like they’re just going through the motions to get the discussion over with and go back to whatever they’d rather be doing.
So what happens that creates such a gap between how you come across when you speak and how you want to come across?
First and foremost, you forgot the rule of thumb: to be the kind of speaker you’d want to listen to if you were in their seat.
Here’s video #1 from my mini-video series, “Capturing your Confidence on Camera,” with tips on how to connect with your audience:
It gives you ideas for how to frame your content and your delivery in a way that will help you connect with the audience.
Because when people walk into the room, subconsciously they are hoping you will answer one single question: “What’s in it for me?”
You can’t just run through your material with the sole purpose of checking off all the topics you think you need to cover. While this is the default approach most people take, that makes it all about you, and it comes across like a laundry list.
You have to think about who is in the audience, what matters to them, and what would make them leave feeling like their time spent with you was the best possible investment of their time, when there are so many other competing priorities.
Then, you not only need to consider the value of the content from their perspective, which gives people a reason to listen, you have to be mindful of how you deliver that information.
That’s where the experience shifts from one where your audience appreciates your content, to one in which your audience connects with you.
And that’s where the magic begins.