How to Ensure that your Talk is Relevant

A vital skill for any good speaker is knowing how to tailor your talk to your audience, and it’s no.2 on my C.R.I.S.P.E.R. list of essential skills (clear, relevant, insightful, succinct, practiced, energetic, respectful).

Here are some suggestions for you, particularly if you’re not yet an experienced speaker. It can be helpful to focus on two things:

  1. why you’re speaking on your topic (rather than anybody else)
  2. what the most relevant slant on your topic is for your audience

1. Why you’re speaking

One of the most important things that you bring to the table as a speaker is your experience and expertise, and going through this step will help to sharpen your focus on the purpose of your talk. Your qualifications are unique, and you have strengths that only you can bring to your audience.

What’s your background on the topic? It may be worth examining this: it sounds simplistic, but just as a fish immersed in water isn’t aware of the water, you may forget to take a step back yourself: why you? Do you have access to information or data that nobody else has? And is it important (or indeed inappropriate) to bring in your personal experience?

2. The most relevant slant for your audience

You’ve probably heard a speaker where you said to yourself “this is wasting my time.” If you’re speaking to a group that you don’t know well, and you don’t do proper research about them beforehand, you’re just going to waste everyone’s time and energy. Here’s a checklist for things you might need to know about them before you create your content (this is information you can gather either from the meeting planner if there is one, reading up on the group, or by contacting a prospective member of your audience beforehand):

Possible research:

  • age/gender/(political persuasion)
  • number in the audience
  • audience level of knowledge on your topic
  • motivation/resistance to hearing you
  • likely opinions on your topic
  • ‘hot buttons’ that might derail you if you’re not aware of them beforehand: what are they sensitive to? What’s topical? What’s important?
  • issues and challenges
  • goals and desires
  • are they decision-makers if that’s relevant? Implementers?
  • Keen to be in your audience/coerced/neutral
  • Q and  A session: if you have one, what are you likely to be asked?

This stuff is fundamental, and most of it might seem obvious, but it could be worth revisiting from time to time, just to make sure you’re covering your bases! And if you’re just starting to create specific talks, it’s a handy checklist.

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