3 Questions to Ask When Speaking To A New Audience

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...

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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. 

  1.  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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 

Should You Teach Anymore?

I was sitting in a boardroom. We were leading two departments with the staff built for one and I was teaching two completely separate talks every week. The team sat in one of our weekly meetings trying to figure out what to do next, how were we going to keep moving forward?

And then she said it. "Steve, I don't thing you should teach any more. Well, at least not every week." That's a hard thing to say to a guy who does it for a living...shoot, it's a hard thing to hear! But she was right.

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I couldn't give it the attention I needed to. And how could I expect to get any better as a communicator if I barely had enough time to prepare for next week's talks. That moment made me ask a two questions, questions it's taken me years to answer.

  1. What do I expect to accomplish when I teach?
  2. Am I a more effective speaker than I was a year ago?

You see, we have this unique opportunity. An opportunity every time we hit the stage, to change peoples lives. We challenge them to think differently, to wake up tomorrow and to be different than they were on Friday. We've got the opportunity to help them see themselves differently.

As preachers, we have an opportunity to help them understand that they are a child of God, the God of the universe! The God who told the lights to come on and the birds to fly and the man to stand up and walk. We've got an opportunity to change the way they look at the world around them. To hand them glasses that see pain, hurt and beauty in a way they haven't seen before.

The challenge? You've only got 30 minutes to do it. 

It's exciting to think about the possibilities, about what God is planning on doing in the lives of your audience. But when you stop to think about the window of opportunity you have, I've got to be honest, I'm scared that if I blink I'll miss it.

Bill Hybels said that the church is the hope of the world.  He's right. The church is what Christ left behind to keep the ball rolling. And after hundreds of years of habit, people are expecting us to gather together once a week and listen to the preacher do his thing. So we better make it GREAT! If the church is going to be the hope of the world, each part is going to need to function to it’s fullest.

  •  Leaders need to be great leaders,
  • Teachers need to be great teachers,
  • Care givers need to be great care givers,
  • Group leaders need to be great group leaders,
  • Neighbors need to be great neighbors.

If we are going to honor those before us as well as those we serve we must be great. We must put all of our effort into fulfilling our role completely!

We've got to ask ourselves those two questions: 

  1. What do I expect to accomplish when I teach?
  2. Am I a more effective speaker than I was a year ago?

Azendoo Will Flatten Your Volunteer Organization [Tool Review]

Flatter is faster, further reaching and most effective in a growing organization.

We know that in order for this organization to grow we need more people. We need more people owning the vision and moving us forward. As a leader this is invigorating and frightening. We want to climb the next hill, but the more we people involve the more "chefs we have in the kitchen". We fear that leaders will start off misaligned and eventually go rogue. We fear that eventually all we will be doing is fixing other people's mistakes and putting out fires. Not very exciting for you and me. Not really what we signed up for.

So here is the trick to going faster, further and being most effective when your organization is growing: flatness.

The secret to flatness is information and boundaries. As you've probably already experienced, one of the difficulties in running a volunteer organization is the balance between control and speed. We feel responsible for excellence in our organizations but how do we accomplish that promptly and appropriately? Over the last number of months I've been experimenting with a tool to help flatten our volunteer organization structure and it's working.  It's called Azendoo (link).



Azendoo groups all your teamwork in one place so that you can plan, share and get organized, together.




Azendoo has proven to be a fantastic tool for sharing information and engaging our volunteer teams. We've put information in the hands of high capacity volunteers so that they can make the best decision on the ground. There is one essential ingredient necessary when you push decision making to the lowest possible level in your organization. You've got to be absolutely sure you are playing from the same playbook. 


Azendoo also won Evernote's Best Multi-Platform App 



In Patrick Lencioni's book "The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business" [Link], he mentions 6 questions a team must answer:
  1. Why do we exist?

  2. How do we behave?

  3. What do we do?

  4. How will we succeed?

  5. What is most important, right now?

  6. Who must do what?

All 6 questions are important, but most important to what we are trying to accomplish is number 5. As a leader, you need to be able to point back to what is most important right now. In fact, as you manage a team, your most important job is to engage and energize you team to accomplish what's most important right now. 

Give you team the information they need to be the fastest, furthest reaching, most efficient team they can be. Then, get out of the way...

To get you started, I've put together a list of 5 tips to getting the most out Azendoo. You can download it for free below.