Written by: Kate Gilbert, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
You may wonder why sometimes the speech you created works wonderfully for one audience and feels wonky for others? Presentations are rarely one size fits all. Not only do you need to tailor your material for different audiences but finding a fresh angle can also help you to deliver with more spontaneity and excitement on the day. Sometimes, trying to re-create something that worked really well somewhere else can actually be a hindrance to delivering it really well for the second or third time. Whilst having the experience of a workshop or speech going well is hugely confidence-building and affirming, expecting it to have the exact same impact with every audience can leave you disappointed. Finding ways to keep something fresh and feeling “new” each time you present can really help you receive a great reception every time.
Fortunately, it’s not rocket science or some intangible ethereal reason: it’s simply that audiences are different. There are obvious differences to pay attention to, such as age, background, experience, level of seniority, interest in the subject, knowledge of your subject.
A client I worked with recently did a wonderful presentation in front of one hundred people from a stage but when she tried to recreate it in front of six people around a table it felt awkward and was coldly received. There is a level of intimacy and personability that is greater when speaking to a small group than a hall of people and this needs to be considered and our delivery and even content carefully adjusted. Giving an introduction that is very formulated and structured about how you got to where you are, could feel perfect in front of fifty people from a stage but forced and awkward in front of five. All of these things need to be taken into account. Here are some questions and tips to help you create and adjust your presentation for different audiences for maximum success:
1. Research your audience - Ask the organiser – what will the space be like? How many people will be in attendance? What are they interested in? I’ve run workshops and talks before where I was expecting a certain number of attendees yet the number was dramatically different on the day. This makes a difference to the time that you will spend on exercises and how long tasks will take. Have a back-up plan. What will you do if the speaker before you runs over and you need to condense your message or take something out? You don’t want to prepare thinking that you will be speaking to ten people in a board room and then arrive and realise you are speaking to sixty from the stage. The delivery, content and style will be very different.
2. People in larger groups can be less reactive - Sometimes it’s easier to build a rapport and have a more informal persona with a smaller group of people than it is when speaking in front of one hundred. Why is this? Aside from the fact that a larger crowd will often make us more nervous and less relaxed, there are also factors involved for the audience. When people are in a large group they tend to lose their individuality and personal responsibility. The majority of people become passive listeners. They sit back and blend into the crowd, they feel no responsibility towards you in terms of demonstrating that they’re listening or participating vocally. We’ve all experienced this on zoom! I generously call it “resting listening face”. Many people have social anxiety and speaking up in front of a large group may feel embarrassing or put them at risk of sounding stupid or being judged in front of their peers and senior management.
3. Use questions relevant to your audience to engage them - Rhetorical questions are good for large audiences as it makes them think and engage but asking or relying on them answering direct questions in a detailed way may cause your talk to crash, when you get little back. A smaller group however is different. Whilst you are clearly the leader of this group there is the opportunity to use a more intimate voice and to ask questions and involve them more in your presentation if you wish. Asking questions early can be an excellent way to gauge interest or level of knowledge in your topic and to have your participants actively listening and engaging from the beginning.
4. People process information differently - Be aware that in any audience you are likely to have people with different learning styles. If your own learning style is auditory (you are good at processing information by hearing it) you may be unaware that others are more visual and need pictures, graphs and stories in order to process information and fully understand the topic you are talking about. By including pictures, graphs, gestures (visual stimulus/examples) and stories in your presentation you will be catering for all these learners and you’ll find the level of engagement will rise.
5. Presenting to young people - If you’re talking to young people you must think about how to change your tone and likely your language. A strong assertive tone and stance may work successfully in board meetings but may not work for them, often being a little more relaxed in your body language and adding some warmth can help. Find out if you will be talking to girls, boys, mixed or young children. Teenage girls can be very well behaved while a room of boys could get very stilly and quickly out of hand. Think about what they will relate to and their possible level of understanding of your subject. If your language is too complex with lots of jargon they will lose interest so keep it simple. If they are sixth form or University students they will expect to be challenged and hungry for learning. However, as a general rule, using simple language that everyone can understand is always preferable over using heightened language that has the appearance of making you sound very educated and impressive, but if you lose your audience along the way it will go against what you’re trying to achieve. Be careful of any references that teenagers could become embarrassed by or overly excited about. If they get silly you could lose their attention for a few minutes and struggle to bring focus back to the room.
Finally, many people re-write a speech every time they come to do it, this can also be unnecessary and time-consuming. It’s good to re-purpose your tried and tested material. Firstly, think about your audience and the topic and write down a rough plan of what you will cover. Then go back to your previous talks and see what you can re-use and pull over to this one. Is there a good story that you’ve used before that will also work for this audience? Keep in mind that sometimes tearing down a powerpoint and starting again completely can be less time consuming than trying to fit new bits in and disrupt the original flow…Try to keep each speech unique, a different audience will bring different energy, interest and experience so make sure you always create with them in mind first but use parts that you know will work as to ease your workload.
if you are interested in improving your public speaking with Kate, you can schedule a call through her website www.kategilbert.co.uk to find out more
Kate Gilbert, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Kate is an award-winning public speaking coach (coachingfoundation.com 2021) with seven years of coaching experience and over twenty years as a workshop facilitator in communication and performance techniques. Her work includes a wide range of clients from business to the creative industry including CEOs, entrepreneurs, education, creatives and even boxers. She has led workshops for SKY, Maverick Media, London School of Economics, Jazz North and government-funded NCS among others.
Kate's style is supportive, energetic and fun. With a background in acting, playwrighting, compering and singing, she specialises in storytelling, voice and performance, supporting clients to cultivate captivating stage presence with stories that inspire, transform and engage. Kate has a rare ability to take her clients from tearful to genuinely enjoying public speaking. Clients often report that they have a greater number of people approach them after their talks and feedback often include comments about how genuine, authentic, natural, inspiring and compelling their talks were. Kate's style is highly practical and uses holistic elements such as meditation, visualisation and relaxation techniques.