You really need to know your audience before you begin public speaking. Make sure to ask your event host all about your audience and their needs as you plan out your talk. Use this page as a handy checklist to make sure you get all the details. These are great questions you can ask your host or event manager to make sure that you really get to know your audience.
Here are the top questions to ask your event host about your audience.
How many people do you expect in the audience?
Just having an approximate number will help you tailor your talk. You may want to modify your talk if you have a very small number of people compared to a large number of people. Smaller audiences require more intimacy and connection. Larger audiences require stronger body language and greater stage presence and showmanship.
Do you know your audiences profile?
To really get to know your public speaking audience, figure out exactly who will be listening to your speech. What profession or speciality does your audience have? What level of education do they have? Where are they from? Are they all from one company or are they from many different companies? How do they dress? How do they think? What age are they?
Sometimes, if you are speaking to a large audience, you may have several different profiles in the mix. When talking to businesses maybe you will have a mixture of high level managers and lower level employees. In talking to schools you may have a mixture of young students who have just started, experienced students about to graduate, and professors who have been working with your subject for 20 years. If your audience is part of a social group you may have half the audience who are members of the group, and understand all the inside jokes, and the other half may be their partners, who are just coming along for a nice evening.
Make sure you really get to know your audience profile well in advance, and customise your talk just for them.
Know your audiences problems understanding your public speaking.
It is very important that you make sure everyone in your audience understands what you say, and has a good experience at your event. Here are some common problems and solutions that you can prepare beforehand:
Does your audience all have a good understanding of English?
If you are speaking in another country, or to an international company, check the language requirements. If you are worried about being understood, go through your talk and remove any long or complicated words. Consider adding translations to your powerpoint slides, or replace words with images. Ask if a translator will be available on the day.
Is your public speaking topic complicated?
If you think that your topic may be too complicated for your audience, consider simplifying it. You may also want to make a beginners guide of some kind that you can send to your audience in advance. A beginners guide to your talk could be a short video, a digital PDF, or a short printed copy of notes that clearly explains the key points. Not everyone in your audience will read this, but it can really help if you are speaking to a beginner audience, such as to schools, students, and those completely new to the topic.
Do you know your audiences’ special needs?
Always check if your audience members have any special needs that you could make extra effort to accommodate. Notes in large print can help visually impaired audience members. Script transcripts can be useful for hearing impaired audience members. If you have a Q and A session, consider allowing audience members to write down their questions and hand them to you if they have anxiety speaking up in front of the whole room. If you are speaking for a long time, make sure you leave enough gaps for comfort breaks.
Pay special attention to any interactive elements of your talk. If you get the audience members to do any kind of action such as standing up, jumping up and down, changing seats etc, make sure that no one will be left out if they are unable to interact for any reason. Physical movement based workshop games can be really tough if the boss has a sprained ankle!
Know what your audience knows.
Always check the knowledge level of your audience. What buzzwords or industry specific jargon might you use in your talk? Will the audience understand it? Do they have an advanced knowledge of your topic or will you have to spend more time covering the basics?
Also consider the subjects and topics of any other speakers who may be speaking before you, if it is a multi-speaker event. Try to avoid covering the same ground.
Know what your audience will do next.
Customise your public speaking take-aways or key calls to action by knowing what your audience will do next. If they are working towards something – anything – acknowledge in your talk how your ideas may be useful in that future situation.
Start where your audience is.
When you are speaking to an audience, your main role is to help them grow and develop. Therefore, you want to start your talk from the position that the audience is already in.
If you are talking to a group of students, start your talk with a story from your university days. If you are talking to a group of middle managers who are struggling, start with a story of how you helped a struggling middle manager.
This will help build empathy, connection and relevance between yourself and your audience.
Know your audiences room layout.
Room layout is super important. Understanding the dynamics of the room can help you cater your content to match the energy of the room.
Tables in front of the audience encourages note-taking, so leave pauses between key points so the audience can write down notes.
If coffee or refreshments are served, check to see if they are served in the same room as you are presenting, or in a different area. Clinking of glasses and cups can be distracting.
Cramming lots of people into a smaller space creates an intimate atmosphere, great for having questions during the talk rather than afterwards.
Having a large room with only a few audience members in it can make it look empty on photos and videos. Encourage the audience to fill up the front rows of the seats to build a closer connection.
Seeing the size of the room will also help to know if your audience can hear you with or without a microphone.
If you plan on interactive elements where audience members must get up and join you on stage, make sure that you put the most enthusiastic and engaged people sitting in a place you can easily get to them.
Check the lighting levels, and the strength of any projector if you intend to use powerpoint. Make sure your audience can see and hear your presentation easily.
Know some of your audience beforehand.
A great idea is to arrive early before your public speaking begins, and make sure you have time to have an informal chat with a few of your audience members first. That way, you will get a feel for what they are really like, and what they want to get out of the event.
Know what your audiences biggest problem is right now.
This is a great question to ask. But bear in mind, you should research and make sure you really know what your audiences biggest problem really is. Sometimes the person booking you for the talk may think they know the answer, but you may have to do some more digging.
Ask this question several times to several different audience members before your talk starts. This will help you make sure that your presentation is sympathetic to the audiences situation.
How do YOU get to know your audience before public speaking?
Please leave your public speaking tips and tricks in the comments below.