Someone told me that this advice is the single best advice they have ever received about public speaking. I was a bit taken aback because it’s obvious, but I guess that’s what the greatest types of advice are. You might have read my post lessons learned about public speaking, and they are great points, but they actually assume you already know this first piece.
I’ve been doing public speaking for over 15 years. My first talk was at an internal corporate conference in 1998. I spoke about the different mentality needed for a quality testing process, and how I had successfully raised the quality bar for all developers, analysts and testers. I know, exciting but at the time, particularly for a large consulting company that kept having lawsuits, it was pretty important stuff. Later I would go on to work at Microsoft, do a cross-Canada speaking tour, and regularly give talks at Microsoft architecture and other events (when I wasn’t consulting on projects). What I speak about has changed, but not how to go about creating my content or how I deliver it.
Remember when I said it’s obvious, it is. Put your audience’s needs first. Feel let down? Well, let me unpack that. A LOT of speakers, particularly authors, go to schools or in front of conference groups, and give a speech which is for them. Maybe they need emotional validation, maybe they are trying to tell the world “SEE, DESPITE WHAT YOU DID TO ME, I DID IT!” But that’s not really of value to your audience. You might be able to rationalize it, but days later, your audience is not going to be thinking about how you truly impacted their lives. Professional speakers who share their story still do it from the perspective of “what’s in it for the audience, what take aways are available, and how can it make their lives different going forward.”
When I go to a school, I don’t spend time talking about the challenges of writing a series because unless the students are studying series or writing a series, they won’t be able to relate. Instead, I talk about the length of story arcs and how many ideas it can include, when you go from flash fiction to short story to novel to series. I break it down so that they can see they elements they know, and look from there at the horizon of series.
While I share that I have “all the classic advantages” as I call it (dyslexia, chronic pain and severe asthma), and that I was a “misfit among misfits” in school, I mention it, see it connect with certain students, and move on. This isn’t about me proving anything to the world, this is about having those kids similar to what I was, seeing that the person talking today was once like them.
Recently, when I had two kids who had attended a talk I gave show up at a book signing I was giving, it was amazing. They arrived separately, in both cases with parents who were light up and excited by how much their kid had come to life and been energized about school and writing since I’d spoken to the class nearly a week ago.
When you give a speech, it’s always about the audience just like writing a book is about the audience. It’s not about pandering to them, don’t get me wrong, it’s about thinking less about what’s going out of your mouth and more about how it’s going to be heard and what thoughts it’s going to produce in the mind of the listener.
It might not be the best advice in the world for everyone, but for at least one speaker, I’m sure it helped. And I’m sure her audience will be raving about her for weeks.