Public Speaking and Keeping Pace With Your Audience
Public speaking can be brutal. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen public speakers make is that of outrunning their audience. I have made this mistake myself as well! This article is an effort to help you avoid this problem in your next public speaking endeavor.
The purpose for public speaking is to deliver a message. You simply have no business being a public speaker if you do not have a message to deliver. Why should someone listen to you if you have nothing to say? Have you ever listened to someone who had no message? If so, you know what I mean.
Even with a solid message, you must not allow that message to outrun your audience. The message is important, but so is your audience. I have listened to speakers who didn't seem to care about the fact that there audience was there. The speaker had one goal, to finish saying what they came to say, whether anyone heard it or not.
I will say again, that if you do not deliver the goods, you have wasted your time and the time of those listening. This is true even in the case of a hostile audience. They need to get what you came to give. In this article I want to give you some tools you can use to make sure you are aware of the condition of the audience and how to gauge whether they are following you or not.
Learn as much as you can about your audience before you deliver your message.
Obviously this is more difficult with extemporaneous talks, but those are rare, and then there are other tools. Ask the following questions in your research:
Have I spoken to this audience before?
Who are some of the speakers this audience has heard in the past?
What type of speakers do they seem to respond to the best?
What type of people make up this audience?
Are they white collar, blue collar?
Are they married, single, children?
If this is an audience that is regularly together, such as a church group, try to find out how long they are conditioned to listen. I usually speak for less time than I am given. The reason for this is because of a lesson I learned years ago. "Its better to quit when they wish you would keep going than to keep going when they wish you would quit!"
Learn as much about the venue as possible.
What type of room will you be speaking in?
Will you have a pulpit, podium, or just a mic stand?
Will you be speaking in the morning, afternoon or evening?
Will you be speaking before or after a meal?
Remember, that if delivering your message is the goal, than knowledge is power. You don't want to show up unprepared for something you could have overcome if you had done a little research.
Gauge your opening on what you learned in your pre-talk research.
The purpose of the opening, in my opinion, is to get the audience going in the same direction, and, if possible, on the same
The Message And Keeping Pace With Your Audience.
Do not begin to unload your message until the audience is ready. This goes back to the importance of the opening. It would be better to trim a few of your sub-points and spend a few extra minutes getting your audience's attention. So again, don't go on to your subject until the audience is engaged.
One of the best ways to know whether your audience is engaged is through eye contact. Get over your fear of looking the audience in the eyes. I cannot stand to sit and listen to someone speak to the ceiling! Don't:
Examine the ceiling
Bury your head in the podium.
Stare over their heads.
Through eye contact you will know whether your audience is following you or not.
Find ways to engage your audience verbally or physically. This will keep their attention. If appropriate, ask for audience participation. If you cover a main point, and ask some follow up questions, and no one seems to know the answers, perhaps you should consider going over the point again. Audience participation is a great way to keep your audience engaged.
The use of humor is an invaluable tool. If used tastefully, humor can be a tremendous asset to any public speaker. Even the heaviest subjects can be made more bearable if a little laughter is sprinkled in. Every public speaker should strive to develop the use of humor in their talks. Laughter will keep your audience engaged, especially if it is sprinkled throughout your talk. It will keep them listening for the next bit of humor and as a result, they will be more likely to hear what you have to say. An audience will also be likely to remember what you say immediately after a bit of humor. Use that to your advantage.
Some Closing Thoughts
The purpose of humor is to keep your engaged. It can also be used to soften a difficult truth. If you are going to use humor, use it on purpose. Careless humor can ruin both your credibility and your effectiveness.
If you have been speaking for a while and you are not able to keep your audience's attention, then get their attention, sum up, and close. Here is a rule I live by in public speaking. "If you haven't struck oil after boring for 30 min. You may as well stop boring." Dn't take it personal if your audience seems to be tired and drifting. There are many reasons you may lose an audience:
You are boring.
Retention saturation. (The ability of the audience to absorb additional information.)
Ultimately if you stick to your outline stubbornly with no thought to your audience, you will fail to deliver the message and you will most probably not be invited back! I hope this helps!