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Speaking Tip #1: Who's in the room?

Programming note: I've written a lot before about speaking professionally. And as I get asked more questions, I've decided to share what I've learned on the blog here. I'm not sure how often these will come, but just a heads up that I'll be blending in some tips and ideas on this topic from now on. Thanks for reading. 

The one question I always ask my contact (booking agent, campus professional, student leader, meeting planner) twice for every speaking gig is: Who's going to be in the room?

I ask this question when I first make contact so I can make sure to detail my speech accordingly. While I have a set of keynotes I give most often, I always modify and enhance each speech based on who I'm talking to. 

I then ask this question a week before the event. I want to know if anything has changed. Maybe a swath of freshmen signed up for the leadership event at the last minute, balancing out the number of upperclassmen in the room. Perhaps the group from the west coast won't be making it in. Maybe registration doubled or even dropped drastically. 

Knowing your audience is key in any business, no matter what you're saying or what you're selling. Yet, I'm alarmed at the number of speakers who don't seem to have a detailed understanding of who exactly they're speaking to. 

When I ask, "Who's in the room?" here are all the other questions I'm asking:

  • How many people can I expect?
  • How old are they?
  • What industry are they from?
  • Where are they from geographically?
  • What common or overlapping life experiences have they had?
  • What's the male/female breakdown?
  • What are they looking to learn?
  • What's their work experience?

You can't expect to connect with an audience - whether it's 1,000 people or 1 person - if you don't have a keen sense of who it is you'll be (hopefully) connecting with.

What about you? What's the most important question you ask before stepping on stage? Or how do you get a sense of who will be in the room when you speak?

Sam Davidson2 Comments