I had just been asked to speak to an audience I had never met. The good news was I had (what I thought was) a killer message in my back pocket. I had delivered it about 2 months earlier and hit “knocked ‘em dead”. It was good stuff. I agreed to speak and added it to my calendar. No prep needed...
Okay, you’ve probably already guessed. It didn’t go well. I assumed that my new audience was similar enough to my original audience that it would go off without a hitch. I assumed wrong.
It bombed. I paused for laughs, no one laughed. I tried to make it personal with some life application but it was like talking to a room full of sleep-deprived ER nurses. They could have fallen asleep at any moment considering how non-riveting my content was.
I made a huge assumption that I understood an audience I had never met. We might get lucky every once and a while, but when it does work, it’s more likely that we are just brining our message down to the level it connects with the broadest audience. Not specifically with our audience. Honestly, they deserve more than that.
To overcome any assumptions we may have, I suggest asking these 3 questions whenever you plan on speaking to a new audience.
These aren’t rhetorical questions either.
Get on the phone, shoot out an email and ask.
- What does this new audience have in common?
This could be a demographic question. It could be a life stage question. It could be an occupation question. And if your answer comes back as a bullet point list, that’s even better. The more you can understand about your audience, the better.
- Is there something specific you need to address?
Rather than both parties (you and the organization asking you to speak) making an assumption about your content, ask if there are any specific issues they were hoping you’d address. This can give you a better sense of what your audience is struggling with.
- Is there anything related to the agreed upon topic that they would prefer you did not talk about?
What you are really doing with all three of these questions is to identify exactly where your audience is coming from. The more you understand about who they are, the more intimate you can be with your content.
By asking this question you make sure you fit into their current speaking plan. You would hate to cover the same thing the last speaker did.
In the end, you want your audience to feel like you were speaking to each of them as individuals and the best way to do that is to understand who they are.
Who knows, you might get lucky and only need to tweak that old message to serve the new audience.