Kafui Dey column Public Speaking: ‘A’ is for Audience
Public speaking requires that you speak to a group of people on a specific topic. Without an audience, it is obvious that you will only be talking to yourself. A public speaker who has little regard for his audience will not get very far. The people you speak to determine the kind of message you communicate and the language you use to convey that message. So it is important that you know as much as you can about them.
One of the most important things you can do as soon as you agree to speak on a topic is to ask questions about your audience. Questions are tools that help you to uncover information. Act like a journalist. Get a blank piece of paper and list the following questions which will help you to get a better understanding of the people who will listen to your speech.
Who are you speaking to?
Are they old men, middle-aged women or teenagers? The age of your audience often determines the language you use. You can imagine the quizzical looks you would get if you addressed a group of 70-year-olds and used slang words like ‘swag’ and ‘lit’ to mean ‘style’ and ‘extraordinary’.
What do they do?
Are they small business owners, recent retirees or striking nurses? What would be the impact of your talk about salaried workers’ access to loans for salaried workers if your audience is made up of unemployed graduates? Nil, I would imagine.
Why have they gathered to listen to you?
Does your audience want to be informed, educated or entertained? Consider a scenario where you have been invited to give a talk to the staff of a bank which has recently collapsed. Would your talk be well received if it contained several jokes about people losing their jobs owing to poor corporate governance practices?
How much time do they have to listen to you?
Imagine planning a one hour speech for a group of people who only have 30 minutes of their lunch break to listen to you. Would they wait till the end of your talk to ask you questions? I doubt it very much.
Start your talk by catching the attention of your audience. You can do this in a number of ways. One method is to walk onto the stage, stand in the middle, look at them and smile. After 20 seconds or so, the curiosity factor will make them will focus on you and then you can begin your talk.
Another way of connecting with your audience is to ask them a question on a current issue that is relevant to them. This shows them you are in sync with what concerns them and makes them more likely to be receptive to the message you are about to deliver.
During the speech, watch for feedback. Frowns may signify misunderstanding so ask questions to clarify. Nodding heads may mean you are on track. It does not hurt to confirm that by asking your audience whether they agree with the point or are following the speech.
Finally end by remembering to thank your audience. They sat through your speech and gave you feedback. It is only right that you show appreciation to them.