Always speak to the people in your audience in ways that move them – respect your audience.
Speak to your listeners in their language and to their needs.
Always offer them your respect and your heart.
Does this seem obvious?
“Respect Your Audience” Seems Easy
That’s the paradox.
We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game. We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms.
We say what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear. We speak in language that gives us comfort.
Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”
Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why folks have gathered to hear the message. Often, a business presenter may offer an off-the-shelf message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it. She ignores the precept respect your audience.
The Curse of Hubris
Paradoxically, this occurs often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees. Infused with the power and sometime hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.
But it doesn’t.
They don’t prepare. They offer standard tropes. They rattle off cliches. They pull out blandishments. And they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing.
What he says and the way he says it, whatever it was, becomes gospel.
But the presentation emperor has no clothes. He does not follow the precept of respect your audience.
Contempt? Close to It
What we actually witness from presenters of this type is a form of contempt. Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often. The lack of preparation by speakers disregards the audience. It shows contempt for the time of people gathered to listen.
For instance, last year a successful young entrepreneur spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea and then pitching that idea to venture capitalists. His idea was tremendously successful and, as I understood him, he sold it for millions.
Now, he stood in front of our students wearing a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup. He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines.
What was his sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?
You Call That Good Advice?
“Make really good slides.”
That was it.
Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is. What does it truly mean? You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?
“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less. Did this fellow follow the respect your audience mantra? I think not.
I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit. Likely as not, he developed a great idea, defined it sharply, and practiced many times.
It was presented knowledgeably by well-dressed entrepreneurs, and this is what won the day. And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by.
So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful communicators if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned. Speak to your listeners as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.
We gain by following the respect your audience mantra.
Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.
For more on how to respect your audience, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.