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Playbook

How to Keep Your Audience Hooked

September 30, 2015

keep your audience hooked

When you get up to talk or take the microphone at an event, it is not, and should not be, all about you—not if you want to be effective, impressive, and memorable, that is. There is an unwritten, unspoken contract with your audience that you, the speaker, will entertain, enlighten, or energize them. Personal stories need to support a point. The time you take needs to be used to deliver something of value. An audience waits for something new, useful, beneficial, or fun. Audiences, and certainly fans, like to be acknowledged somehow. In order to deliver on any or all of this, you must prepare your remarks with your audience’s experience in mind. That is the essence of being audience-centric.

An inclination to be an egocentric versus audience-centric speaker is as natural and common among business executives as it is among athletes and can manifest itself in many ways.

Audiences all have biases, self-interests, and expectations. They have a very basic “what’s in it for me?” thread running through their subconscious. They want something in exchange for their time and attention. As if that weren’t enough, they also don’t want to work hard. Unless you guide them and tell them where you’re taking them, they won’t make the connections and get there on their own. To make matters slightly more challenging, competition for people’s attention is tougher, and their devices—cell phones, laptops, tablets—are ubiquitous (although the presence of devices can also be a good thing, as increasingly people use them to take notes).

Finally, an audience sizes you up immediately and, within seconds, decides if you are worth their attention and engagement. There are studies showing that this happens in the first eight seconds. Think about that: In the first eight seconds, people decide whether to listen to you or not. This certainly puts some weight on how you open your talk.

All of this adds up to a tall order. It demands that you, the speaker, think about your audience more than just superficially. Your topic and your time allotment may be fixed, but your audience is a variable, and that should guide you in preparing what you deliver and how. The experience you give them will stay with them longer than any words or data you share.

Too many speakers and presenters—in fact, probably the very same ones you and I have complained about—clearly approach the podium without having given a minute of consideration to their audience’s interests or concerns, or quite possibly even to whom their audience is. They simply deliver what’s important or compelling to them about their topic. Perhaps you’ve listened to speakers who deliver canned presentations, without regard for the city they’re in or the group they’re in front of that day. That’s an example of an egocentric speaker, and that person’s inability to recognize or acknowledge, even indirectly, the audience’s “what’s in it for me?” causes him or her to lose big points.

What’s at stake when the speaker skips over the audience’s sensitivities? There’s a risk of losing credibility and likeability— two pretty strong desirables for a speaker. Ask yourself:  What’s probably on their minds? or Which aspect of my topic is most likely to resonate with them? or At the end of the day, what does this audience really care about? That will be an enormous help to you in figuring out how to frame your remarks. Even simply speculating on what your audience might care about is better than ignoring it altogether.


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About The Author

Communications coach Beth Noymer Levine is an expert in helping Fortune 500 executives, professional and world-class athletes, and other high-profile individuals effectively think about, prepare for, and deliver their messages to important audiences. The founder of SmartMouth Communications, Levine is also the author of “Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World" and the creator of SmartMouth OnDemand , an innovative online learning platform that offers interactive skill-building communications courses. She is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter at conferences and events nationwide.

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