Making Good Speakers Great

Listener-Centered Presentation
Caring for Your Audience

You’re all alone in front of the room. Everyone is watching you, and you’re doing all the talking. It’s easy to feel it’s all about you. And that’s a big mistake. It leads to unnecessary anxiety and ultimately a failure to accomplish your objectives.

Every speech or presentation is about getting a message to your listeners. As the speaker, you play an important role, but it’s all on behalf of the listeners. If your audience doesn’t get the message, you’ve wasted your efforts. Here are some strategies to keep your focus in the right place when preparing and delivering your speech.

Preparation Strategies

Clarify the message. It’s easy to create content based on what you want to say. (If you’re a subject matter expert, there’s always a lot to say.) Instead, ask yourself, “What do they need to hear?” This will help you define the scope of your presentation and enhance the relevance of your material. Are you speaking to executives, managers or customer reps? Given the same topic, each group needs to hear a different message.

Find the hook. Consider the significance of your message—for the listeners. Obviously, everything you say is important to you. Why dothey need to hear this? What problem can be solved? What stress can be relieved? What ambition could be realized? If you can feel—not just know—why this matters to your audience, you will bring a great deal more passion and persuasiveness to your performance.

Plan the approach. Given the nature of your content and the make-up of your audience, what would be the most effective way to deliver this message? How do they need to hear it? Expressing it with words is the obvious choice, but only a fraction of your audience learns best by listening. Would a picture or an image be more effective? Stories and examples are often memorable. Perhaps a demonstration would drive the message home. Some people learn well through activity and participation. Don’t assume talking is the best approach.

Performance Strategies

Deliver with clarity. Of course you know what you’re saying. That doesn’t mean it’s clear for your listeners. After all, you created and rehearsed the material, and your notes are right in front of you. But that’s not true for them. They have just one opportunity to get it. If they don’t, you’ve wasted everyone’s time. Slow down, pause frequently and speak with your whole voice. What feels natural for you in conversation is not a good model for effective public speaking. It’s a different platform with different requirements.

Create an experience. Good speech is never just about saying the words. It’s about connection and relationship. So say it like you mean it or don’t say it at all. You can’t say, “We’re very happy we surpassed our targets for last quarter,” with a blank face and a flat voice. You have to feel something. If you feel it, we will feel it. And if you make us feel something we’ll believe you and respond.

Monitor the situation.  This is no time to be in your head or wrapped up in your notes. Be present in the room with your listeners. How are they doing? Are they understanding or confused? Do they seem engaged or bored? It’s been said that great speakers listen to the audience with their eyes. You might not always know how to respond to what you’re observing, but it’s definitely better than not noticing at all.

When you’re communicating well, you’re not preoccupied with yourself and how you’re doing. You’re focused on the task at hand: getting the message to the listeners as effectively as possible. It’s a big job and it requires your full attention and investment. If you’ve prepared with your audience in mind and approach your speech with the intention of caring for your listeners, you’ll feel focused and empowered, and you’ll communicate in a persuasive and effective manner.


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