Know your audience

I recently spoke at an industry event on the subject of differentiating your message.  I was invited to speak by someone who knows my work as a communication coach who told me that there would be a variety of people from the industry there; those who call on large organizations, and those who meet with smaller clients—two very different sales processes.

I worked hard on the talk trying to balance the needs of the two groups, but after speaking with my contact a second time, he assured me that anything I had to say would be equally applicable to both parties.  So I concentrated on the part of the industry that I knew best—selling to the smaller clients.

On the big day, I arrived at the venue to discover that the audience was almost 100% large organization people.  I was quite sure that much of my presentation was not going to be relevant to them, but I determined that I had no choice.  It was too late to change anything.  I had to dance with the girl I brought, deliver the presentation I wrote, and, as musicians say, “be wrong strong.”

I did well.  I was able to execute my plan.  And I had seven or eight people ask for my business card, which is a good thing.  But I also learned a lesson.

The lesson is this:  talk to more than one person about the nature of the audience you’ll face.  Ask for several names of attendees, and the names of several of the organizers.  Call them all and ask them to tell you about the event.  Ask, “Who will be there?  What are their needs and interests?  What should I avoid?”

I don’t blame my client for giving me wrong advice.  She was telling me what she believed to be true.  I blame myself for not being more curious, not gathering more intel, not looking under every stone to get a clear and comprehensive picture of the audience I was addressing.

Clichés are cliché because they’re so often true.  Know your audience is an old bromide that anyone can blurt out when asked, “What’s the most important thing in public speaking?”

But how???  One answer is, “Get your intel from more than one source.”


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