At what point do you become an experienced and effective speaker? It’s not something you magically arrive at by speaking a certain number of times. You may have delivered 50 speeches, but that doesn’t make you an effective speaker. The key to making that leap, I believe, is to be more audience-centered than self-centered.
In your early speeches you are self-centered. The main goal is simply to get through the speech without passing out. You worry about the presentation being too long or too short.
After a while you begin to enjoy the adrenalin rush you get in front of an audience. Soon you find you’re not relying on your notes as much and you’re making more eye contact with the audience. Eventually, when you grow more comfortable presenting, it’s time to move to an audience-centered performance.
You reach the effective speaker stage when you begin to research and deliver each presentation with the audience first and foremost in mind. The questions you need to answer should be: Will they understand? Does this material give them what they need to improve their skills or be persuaded? What questions will they want answered? Which terms need to be defined and explained? What will they do as a result of my presentation? How much evidence will I need to convince the people in this audience?
If you are an expert in your field, you are already good at delivering a lot of information on the subject matter. But as you begin to consider the audience more, you need to think about narrowing your material to a digestible level. Learn how to limit your material by determining how much listeners already know and what additional information they need from you about the subject.
This is an important skill for experts, because even though you are presenting the same material often, each audience is different. Your major concern should be to influence that specific audience, and ensure your content fits their needs—not the needs of the audience from two weeks ago. Adopting this attitude keeps your material fresh. Even though you are familiar with the speech, you need to remember that the audience is hearing it for the first time.
Another approach to becoming audience-centered is to have a goal of making the audience think “Me, too,” rather than “So what?” If you are close in age to most of the audience members, you might say, “As baby boomers, we all remember when television became a part of our family life,” or for others, “For some of us, the Challenger tragedy is one of our first memories.”
One trap of presenting the same material several times is that your thoughts may turn to how boring it is to deliver this report for the tenth time. This is a sign you have become self-centered again.
Anytime you start thinking of yourself instead of the audience, it’s time to go back to the basics of speaking. Consider choosing a new topic that excites you, or reorganize your material in a new way. Then follow some of the tips included above.
Certainly experience is important in becoming an effective speaker. But to make the most of experience, work hard to become audience-centered. This will help you progress more quickly to making you a successful speaker every time you speak.