“Speakers who talk about what life has taught them never fail to keep the attention of their listeners.“
When you’re invited to speak to an audience, what are the first questions that come to you? “Who are my audience?” and “what shall I speak about?” Succeeding to inspire and interest our listeners is an objective that haunts us and sometimes hinders us from clearly focusing on proper preparation of our talk. We panic about what will work best, which hot button to press, what stories will impact them the most, etc. This internal deliberation becomes so distressing, and gradually, the fear of not being able to satisfy the audience turns into fear of the audience – a disguised form of fear of public speaking.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you no longer have to worry about that. You can hit two birds (drastically reduce your fear and profoundly inspire your audience) with one stone (turn to yourself and ignore your audience).
As a general rule, you need to “know your audience”. But make it quick: know the audience’s sizes, age range, expectations, etc. Once you’re done with that, turn away from them, and start digging deep inside to see what turns you on within the context of the occasion or theme of the event.
This is a far more focused, time-saving and productive process than searching for what may or may not affect your audience. And, you will reap many fruits and achieve faster and better outcomes:
- You will touch more hearts: if you’re are able to reach into what triggers you and touches your heart, chances are more that you will touch most of the attendees, if not all. Remember, you are one of the audience members, and the best indication that you’re talk will touch them is that it touches you.
- You will have more enthusiasm: sharing what deeply moves you will make you exude effortless enthusiasm, which your audience can fee. So, whether it’s pain or pleasure, pick what burns, bothers or boils you, and watch how the audience gets infected.
- You will be less nervous: simply put, speakers’ anxiety cannot be shoved away by feeble mental and temporary tricks; it can only be shaved off by a more powerful engine: emotions. By choosing to talk about what moves you, you are opening the dam’s gate, and letting the floods of your feelings ravage your fears and anxieties.
- You will be more authentic: searching for what might affect your audience requires that you also search for how to make it work. You’ll be busy adding spices, additives and decorations to enhance and amplify the taste and texture of your talk. On the other hand, a story or subject that affects you from the inside will naturally affect the way you deliver it, verbalize it, vocalize it and animate it from the outside. Authentic substance produces authentic style – with less struggle.
- Your speech will live longer: Dr Jill Taylor is a famous TED Talk speaker whose talk “My Stroke of Insight” has hit more than 17 million views since it was broadcasted in 2008. Her secret? Read for yourself: “I wasn’t winning awards because my science was better than anyone else’s. I was winning the awards because I could tell a story that was interesting and fascinating and it was mine, down to the detail” (Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED). People who speak about what genuinely concerns or affects them, generate genuine passion; and genuine passion penetrates souls and projects out of TV and PC screens, years after its original video or audio recording.
- You will connect more to the audience: How do you expect a speaker to connect with his or her audience if he or she isn’t strongly connected with their talk or topic? Although this may sound obvious, many speakers subtly slip into this by borrowing speaking subjects and materials that will secure their audiences’ pleasure and acceptance. They will, but it’s a shallow and short lived pleasure, not connection. If you connect, your audience will.
- You’ll stay true to yourself: finally, in all cases, you’ll be a truthful, honest and sincere speaker. That itself is a great trait of great speakers. Think Ghandi, Dr King, Maya Angelo. These great leaders spoke their minds and hearts, said what ought to be said, and that’s why their words lived longer than their lives.
To serve your audience best, be selfish. Be the most inspired one, and you’ll inspire everyone.
Howard Thurman said: “don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive”