“Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” American Indian Proverb
“Never speak to an audience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” adapted by Peter Dhu
An audit of your audience should be one of the first steps that you undertake when preparing to speak or present to them. This can be via research, talking to key stakeholders, checking out websites and LinkedIn profiles or undertaking a pre-event survey. The audit gives you valuable information and will help you prepare and format your presentation. 5 compelling reasons to do an audit include:
1. To know who is in the room.
This includes demographic details like age, profession, values, culture etc. When you know who is in the room you can tailor your talk to their needs and their language. I often refer to Ringo Star as an example of someone who suffers from nerves and stage fright. Many of my younger audiences do not know who Ringo Star is. Therefore, if I use his name, I miss the mark. Adele is another singer who also suffers badly from nerves and stage fright. Most younger audiences know Adele, so I would use her as an example of stage fright if I have a younger demographic.
2. To ensure that you do not create any cultural faux pas.
There is nothing worse than realising halfway through a conversation or presentation that you have offended someone. When speaking across Australia, I always like to mention the traditional landowners, which varies from town to town. On several occasions a participant has later complimented me and stated that they themselves identified as being indigenous and they appreciated my sensitivity and knowledge. Shaking hands, standing on chairs, exchanging of business cards and eye contact are other examples of where you can make a cultural mistake and be unintentinally disrespectful.
3. To select the best stories for that audience.
I have just come back from a mine site where I spoke to mine workers. The stories I shared had to be neutral or mining sector focused to best engage them. When I work with accountants and financial planners, I need to select a different set of stories. And another set of examples and stories are needed for nurses and health professionals. If you don’t know your audience, then you may use stories that are not relevant and do not engage the audience.
4. To know what the audience knows and does not know.
We have all been to presentations where we have heard nothing new. It was just a rehash of the same information. This means the speaker has not taken the time to do an audit of who is in the room and what they know and don’t know. On occasions, you will have a mixed audience that has some people with little knowledge of the topic and some people with advanced knowledge. Although this is tough, you should still give new information for the people with advanced knowledge, while also making it relevant to the people with little knowledge. Don’t assume everyone is at the same level and ensure you have content for both ends of the spectrum, if required.
5. To know what problem or issue your audience is facing.
The best speakers provide information, solutions and education that helps their audience move forward. Now to assume your audience has this problem, without first finding out may get you in trouble. I was at a small business seminar a few months back and the speaker mentioned that most people would love to do live events, but either don’t know how to or are stopped by fear. Not me. I do live events all the time and I love them. My problem is not knowing how to do them or fear, but rather marketing and letting people know that they are on. So, as an audience member, I was disengaged.
My view is that any time you agree to speak, facilitate, or train a group, take the time to do an audit and find out as much as you can about your audience and walk a mile in their shoes.