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Be an Audience-Centered Speaker: Focusing on Listeners' Needs

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  • 0:01 What Is an…
  • 1:14 Focusing on Listening
  • 4:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

The best way a speaker can ensure that his message is communicated effectively is to consider his audience and their biases and beliefs. Getting to know and understand the audience will help to create a speech that carries meaning.

What Is an Audience-Centered Speaker?

Have you ever attended a speaking engagement and found yourself so into what is being said that you became one with the speaker? Chances are you were listening to an audience-centered speaker, which is someone who attempts to make a strong connection with the audience by giving them an experience that is meaningful.

Don't think that the speaker is a magical being who knows just how to get into your mind and heart. It is much more calculated than that. What this speaker probably did was research a couple of important things to determine what is important to the audience. Those things are:

  • Demographics
  • Psychographics

When researching demographics, the speaker is seeking to find commonalities amongst audience members with regards to things like age, income, gender and even a stage in a life cycle. By knowing information like this about his audience, he is better equipped to keep the jargon specific to a more homogenous group.

The speaker may also look at psychographics to come to some conclusions about attendees. This includes information about beliefs, values and lifestyle. You see, the more a speaker knows about his audience, the better able he is to tailor a speech to their preferences. Figuring out what an audience wants to hear takes a keen ear for details.

Focusing on Listening

There is an age-old riddle. What came first, the chicken or the egg? No, not that riddle. This one: What's better - to be a good speaker or a good listener? The answer is simple - both! In order to be a good public speaker, one needs to be a good listener as well.

Listen to what, you ask? Everything. From the time you are offered the speaking gig until the moment the curtain goes down. It's all about understanding your audience, and listening can do that.

Here are a few tips to become a better listener:

  • Ask questions to the person contracting you to speak
  • Gather information about the group you are presenting to prior to the speech
  • Jot down any sidebar conversations you hear along the way
  • Listen to the audience's reaction to your speech as you're talking
  • Listen for verbal and non-verbal feedback after you finish speaking

Let's break it down. Ask questions. When you are contracted to give a speech, ask the person who the audience will be. Find out as much demographic and psychographic information as you can in the early stage, so that you can prepare a speech that will grab the interest of your audience.

It may even be a good idea to find out if there will be other speakers at the engagement. If so, snoop around to find out what topic they are speaking about. This way, you can be sure to align your speech in the same topical direction with your own twist. You don't want to repeat what another speaker says, but you do want to keep it within the same topic palette.

Talk to the group. Arrive early and meet with the attendees. Most times, those attending the speaking engagement are happy to meet and greet prior to the event. You may glean important information about the group that you did not know before the event. This gives you a quick jump on making last minute changes.

Pay attention to sidebar conversations. Jot down any information you find along the way. Perhaps you overheard something about the group while hanging around the coffee station. Write it down. You may need to add or omit something from your speech on the fly.

Listen for audience reactions. As you are speaking, keep an eye peeled for cues that tell you the audience is paying attention. Typically, leaning in and wide eyes will tell you that they like what they hear.

Conversely, fidgeting in seats or checking their smartphones may mean that they are distracted. Distractions are difficult to avoid, but it is good to recognize them immediately so you can divert attention back to you.

Verbal cues are also important, so keep an ear open for things like whispering or yawning. That's a sign that both you and the audience need a wake-up call. Things like applause and sounds of agreement mean the group likes what they hear.

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