Last month, we learned what the key traits of effective communicators are. This month, we’re diving into why it’s so important to put the audience first. Some people think success is as simple as entertaining others, but that is simply not true. It takes two to communicate. There is a big difference between monologuing and dialoguing.
We can monologue whether anybody’s listening or not. We can run on and on long after everybody in the audience has excused him- or herself and made a run for the break room. That, friends, is monologuing. Then there is dialoguing. Talking with someone, not to someone. Getting the message across. Connecting with members of the audience. Connecting.
One of the most powerful tools you have for connecting with your audience is to focus on that audience. Think about the individuals who showed up to listen to you. Forget yourself, your ego, your needs. Think instead about serving the audience, about discovering who they are and what you can do for them during the time you have with them.
Of course, having a good talk with a stranger isn’t always easy. So the first step toward powerful dialogue is to get to know your audience.
Getting to know the audience begins long before you show up in front of the room. In most cases, we have plenty of time to get to know the members of our audience. Sometimes months, certainly weeks and at least days. We are rarely called upon to deliver a message to an audience of any type without at least some opportunity to get to know them first. And with today’s technology, we can learn almost everything but their fingerprints.
When people hear us suggest that we tailor our presentations to our audience members, some folks get uneasy. They wonder if we’re telling them to change their message to suit a particular audience. That is not what we’re suggesting at all. We’ll never be all things to all people. This is not about giving away our principles, our personhood, our authority or our convictions. It’s about widening the group of people with whom we’re effective by opening the door for communication. It’s about knowing who you’re speaking to so you can speak in a way the listener can hear.
If we speak above or below or with disregard for what they know and who the audience is, we will lose them. Because there is no such thing as a captive audience. Any member of any audience is free to tune out as soon as he or she decides the speaker has nothing to offer.
The good news is, even the most tuned-out audience can be won over with the tools we’re talking about. It sounds so simple, and it is. So simple it often never occurs to us: Focus your attention and your energy and your interest on connecting with the audience, on meeting their needs, and they will be yours. They will follow you.
The next step to connecting with the audience is to show up early. Walk around, meet people, learn their names. Look the in the eye, do a little socializing .We find this helps get the audience on your side, makes them more willing, eager even, to like you and your message. But more importantly, you will found out that the audience is made up of people just like you. You will find your common ground. They’re ordinary people with wants and needs, families and sick children, power bills and toothaches.
It’s comforting to know that you’ll be speaking to individuals you’re already met and befriended to some extent, rather than to some nameless, faceless, unknown quotient. You’re now chatting with friends as opposed to making a staid presentation to a group of strangers. Instead of stiff and scary, the situation suddenly becomes fun and comfortable.
What we’re asking you to make is a profound change in the way you view yourself and your role as a communicator. It’s a change some of us – especially those who bring a lot of innate skill to the task – resist. But it’s simple: The less you focus on yourself and the more you focus on others, the more effective you will be.
Learn to “coach”, instead of “taking center stage”. When you view it this way, you will gain the powerful gift of making a positive difference in someone’s life.
After all, it’s about them, not us.
If you’re serious about advancing your skills and making an investment in yourself, we invite you to our Excellence in Speaking Institute. Classes are filling up quickly so don’t delay! Visit this page to read feedback from our graduates about their experience.