Writing For Your Audience
Without an audience a presentation would be little more than a soliloquy. But many speech writers seem to forget that their listeners play an enormous part in the way their material should be developed.
The next time you are asked to give a public address, ask yourself (or find the answers to) the following questions about your anticipated crowd:
1. What is the Education Level of the Audience?A lecture on the solar system that is geared toward ten-year-olds is going to be worded much differently than one targeted at university grad students. Though you may be able to incorporate many of the same elements—the names of the planets, their relation to one another, their orbits—you will have to use appropriate language.
(Hint: If you’re unsure if you’re writing too far above or too far beneath your audience’s level, ask someone else to gauge your presentation outline’s suitability.)
2. How Many Presenters Will the Audience be Listening to?Are you the sole speech maker at a meeting? Or are you one of half a dozen presenters? Depending upon where you fall in terms of the number of speakers (such as first out of twenty or fourth out of five), you’ll need to adjust your speech accordingly.
For example, if you’re the last presenter of a day-long conference, your listeners are going to need an infusion of energy… and that can only come from you! On the other hand, if you’re the only speaker at a presentation that is being held first thing in the morning, your crowd will probably be much more relaxed and open to hearing copious amounts of information.
3. What Does Your Audience Need/Want to Know?There are many ways to present a topic; therefore, you’ll have to select which key elements to explore with your listeners. Depending upon who they are, you can satisfy their needs (and possibly wants) without inserting extraneous facts or anecdotes.
For instance, a talk on the American Civil War to United States history buffs is going to require that you focus on themes that your audience doesn’t already know. Chances are, they are aware of the more commonly known aspects of the various Civil War battles that occurred; consequently, what they want and need is data that is new to them or has recently been revealed.
Alternatively, if you’re talking about the American Civil War to people who are unfamiliar with that historical conflict, you’ll need to cover the basics of the hostilities between the northern and southern United States before you can even consider delving into deeper discussion points.
4. Why is Your Audience in Front of You?Has your audience been instructed or required to attend your talk? Are they paying out-of-pocket to hear you speak? These considerations will greatly alter what will be expected of you as a presenter. After all, money is influential, and people do not like to feel as if they didn’t get any value from your presentation.
Obviously, you should always do your best to write a superb presentation no matter why your listeners will be in front of you, but do keep in mind their motivation for being in the same room as you when you’re putting together your discussion.
5. Do You Anticipate Your Audience to be Friendly, Hostile, or Neutral?If you’re giving a speech to the media, you’ll want to make sure your words are chosen quite selectively; insert too much drama and your talk will be front page news… for all the wrong reasons!
On the other hand, if you’re speaking to a crowd that is eager to hear more about your experiences or ideas, you can feel less guarded about what you say and how you say it.
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By being aware of your audience’s desires, you can more effectively ensure that you all have a positive experience.