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December 2002 - Know your Audience

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December 2002

Know your Audience

Nothing contributes more to the success of a talk than knowing the audience and fitting your presentation to them. Nothing leads to failure more than not doing so. Take time to analyze your audience even before preparing your talk. Who will you be talking to? What are their likes and dislikes? What do you know about them? Remember, the more you know about your audience, the better job you will do speaking to them. If you've talked to this audience before, then analysis will be easier.

If you haven't talked to the audience before, talk with someone who has. Perhaps a friend or colleague has talked to them and can tell you what to expect. I once spoke to a club that regularly interrupted and heckled guest speakers-even ones they liked. Fortunately I had been warned. Granted, this audience behavior is extreme and perhaps even improper. Still, it's better to know about such things before you speak. Stop, take inventory of what you already know about the audience, and then find out more from someone who is more familiar with them.

Over the past three decades I have talked to many audiences-old and young; rural and urban; Americans and Internationals; military and civilian; middle class and wealthy; homogeneous and diverse. I have often talked on the same subjects to very different audiences. I learned long ago that it's worth my effort and time to know all I can about the audience. This knowledge allows me to make necessary adjustments-emphasize certain things, re-arrange things, or change a story here and there. Always keep the audience in mind.

Old-time comedian Milton Berle-"Uncle Miltie" of the early days of television-often told stories to one audience that would be inappropriate for another. But he was able to adjust to the audience. Berle started his comedy routine by telling his audience different types of one-liner jokes. Audience reaction let him know if the audience was in the mood for silly humor, political humor, or blue jokes. Then he simply adjusted his routine to what would be effective for the particular audience that night. Effective speakers know the audience and are wise enough to adjust.

Take time to know you audience. It's well worth it.

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

December 2002 - Know your Audience
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