Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When the Audience Isn't the Most Important Factor

I've said it often in this blog, and every speaking coach I know says it without fail: The most important person to think about when speaking is your Audience.

Except, when it's not.

WHAT? Sacrilege Rich! We're pulling your coaching card and sending you to the penalty box! How could you say such a thing?

It's easy, actually. Because the audience isn't always hiring you. If you don't please the buyer, what the audience thinks doesn't matter. You won't get hired again, you won't get a referral, and who know how many future clients won't hire you because they are connected to the person you just disappointed?

5 Times the Audience Isn't Most Important

- Corporate Shifts - persuading buy-in for negative or positive changes
- Sales - representing a sponsor, such as a non-profit or event investor
- Endorsements - promoting a candidate or cause
- Schools - pushing a faculty or administrative agenda, or even a moral agenda
- Training - preparing the group to perform a task to equal competence

In all of these cases, you may not be all that popular with the people you are speaking to, and in fact, you may be helping to identify audience members that need to be sifted out of the organizations. Your buyer's agenda beats the audience's need, and you need to keep in mind 'who's boss'.

This does not mean the audience isn't important, of course. They still come in a strong second. As a speaker, you should have their best interests at heart, and help them acquire the information and/or reach the conclusion the buyer needs them to reach - quickly, easily, and positively.

What happens if you don't agree with what the buyer is doing? Or if a school wants you to talk about moral behavior that doesn't align with your own? Or you aren't really behind the person you're asked to endorse?

In that case, the most important person in the speech becomes YOU. You have to decide what's more important: a check, or your integrity.

The audience is always an important component, and your speech must have them in mind. But if you aren't speaking the language of your buyer, you may quickly find yourself without buyers altogether.

Just For Toastmasters:

There's one more case where the audience isn't the most important. Toastmasters. Yes, it's true. When you give a speech in your club, YOU and the skills you are learning are most important. The audience comes second. You may be practicing for work, a topic that no one in the room cares about but you. You may need to focus on your gestures for a speech, and give a talk about golf that even you don't like, but it helps you stretch. While you don't want to deliberately offend, use Toastmasters speeches for YOU first, the audience second. Because the more you work on YOU, the better you'll do for them, and for your non-practice audiences, in the future.


  1. I totally agree Rich, especially for professional speakers. Know who is signing the check :)

  2. Rich-
    Thank you for this post. It provides me with a good introduction to you and your specific skills. Tomorrow I give Speech #6 Toastmasters Noon Express OKC Downtown. I have decided to speak "On The Utility Of Twitter" - Your post provides me with some useful "directions of thought" in my preparation. I am new at Toastmasters, so your "Just For Toastmasters" addendum was of particular use.
    Many thanks.



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