[On] Point to Ponder: How to Bring Your Audience Aboard

How well do you know your audience?

In my experience working with speakers, the point on the triangle that is the hardest for them to accomplish is Audience Analysis. Just last week, I was in the audience and at the end of the talk, a hand shot up. “Your talk on employee handbooks and HR-related concerns was interesting, but most of us in the audience – we’re 1-person entities. We don’t have employees.”


A quick look back at the Rhetorical Triangle:

There’s a reason the On Point logo is an equilateral triangle. It’s because a triangle is the best “visual aid” when it comes to teaching and learning message mastery. The slide below sets the stage for every messaging project:

Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle

This 3-part series digs into the “Speaker-Audience-Message” of that triangle as it relates to persuasive speaking. You are reading part 2. Each component must be thoroughly and thoughtfully considered before message mastery is possible. In today’s post, we study “A for Audience.” (Click here to read part 1, “When you’re the Speaker.”)

Why is Audience Analysis so Hard?
There are myriad reasons speakers fall short in this area. Let’s use the “S-A-M” format here, too.

S = Self. The speaker is too focused on themselves and the information want to share. In doing so, they shortchange the time they ought to spend sitting in the audience’s chair. Good audience analysis means you must push “pause” on you and your idea. You must sit in the audience’s seat – what do they think, know, feel, care about?

A = Assumptions. Speakers make too many (often wrong) assumptions about audiences. They assume the audience knows more about the industry than they really know. They assume they want to hear complicated jargon that makes the speaker sound credible. They assume the audience will instantly understand slides as they pop up on the wall, be able to dissect charts and graphs in a matter of seconds. Dangerous assumptions. We are not computers, we are people. Explain it a little. Make us feel smart.

M= Missing Information. Speakers often have a lot of missing information when it comes to the audience – they skip the “research” step. When I am invited to speak, I set aside ample time to get into the heads of my audience. On one occasion, I went back to the organizer twice to confirm I had a handle on the audience. Why? Because to me there is nothing – and I mean nothing – worse than being completely off the mark with my message. If that happens, you’re sunk. Credibility vanishes.

The “How To” of Audience Analysis – it’s Easy, even Fun.
Did you know audience analysis can lead to building your professional network, even bringing in new business? It can. It also helps you attain the “I Nailed It!” feeling after your talk.

S = Story. Lead with a story that connects to them! If you’re giving an investment pitch, what short story will be both relevant to their life experiences and lead to your product unveiling?

A = Ask questions! Before the talk, ask questions to people you know who also know relatively little about your topic or product. If they don’t get it right away, your audience won’t either. In your talk, ask rhetorical questions to keep them on track.  “So you might be thinking…” “Have you ever wondered why…” “I bet you’re asking yourself…” This tells the audience you’ve analyzed them! It makes us happy.

M = Make sure the audience gets on the train. Do not leave them at the station. In every speech, there’s an imaginary train and an imaginary station. The speaker is the engineer, the audience members are passengers. If the speaker hurries through the introduction and proceeds too quickly to their product reveal, charts and call to action, they’re at risk of leaving us at the station wondering where in the world they are going. Last week a speaker left me and many audience members at the station. We had little sense of where he was going, who he represented, or why he cared about the topic at hand. To say the least, it was frustrating. It was hard work being in the audience that day. I didn’t even want to engage in Q & A.

Don’t leave your audience at the station.

Final Thoughts:
Once again, the onus is on you the speaker – to do good audience analysis. You have to care about your audience enough to help them get on – and stay on the train.

Do not misread. I am not suggesting that audiences are not capable of understanding complex ideas, in-depth financial models, sales projections or scientific jargon about nanotechnology. But you have to bring us on board.

In most cases it only takes 1-2 sentences to accomplish that task. Once we are on board, we’re happy, engaged, curious passengers. Take the time to bring us up to speed so we can travel your amazing journey with you to see the pot of gold you found at the end – we want to see the insight you’ve discovered, the product you’ve created, the cause you believe in so fervently.

In short, make the effort to analyze your audience and we’ll be your biggest fans.

Cindy Skalicky, is the owner of On Point Communications, LLC and an accomplished speaker and coach. She works with speakers on storytelling techniques, speech writing, and overall content development. Master the Message. Contact Cindy at: info@onpoint-communications.com

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Tim Ash, Agent at The Group Real Estate

You are a wonderful presenter Cindy! I have taken so much from your presentation at the conference. I noticed when you speak, you at times lowered your volume in a way where we still heard you, but it PULLED the audience in, as if you were confiding in us.

Your vocal variety was lovely, (as well as your content, of course!). The advice to gather your stories from your past and weave them into your presentations is spot on.

Julie Roberts, Linked In profile writer|Coach

“Cindy was truly instrumental in getting a compelling, professional pitch deck put together. Without her structure and guidance on how to tell a compelling story, I know we wouldn’t have had nearly the success and traction that we have. I look forward to continuing to work with Cindy and making our pitch evolve alongside our business.”

Jennifer Henderson| CEO at Career Allies

“Cindy, Your coaching was fantastic. You are so good at this. I have done a lot of this too, but I am in awe of your approach, the simplicity of your suggestions and your general professionalism. Thank you.”

Susan Strong, Director at SAGE Boulder

“As a professional speaker, I know the value of getting feedback before giving an important speech. As I prepared my TEDx talk, Cindy was the perfect person to give me outside perspective. She did a beautiful job taking the many ideas I had floating around in my head and helping me select what to use, how to organize them, and how to tie it all together.

I love the way she coached, not trying to make her words my own, but instead, considering what I was trying to achieve and helping me stay true to my voice. If you have to stand and deliver a great talk, working with Cindy can help you ensure you’re at your best!”

Tanis Roeder, Elevate Your Communication