One of my early mentors was Robert Henry who was not only a masterful speaker but also a genuinely good person. He always had great advice about becoming a better speaker. One piece of advice that stuck with me is about the situation when you feel a little uncertain about your audience. If they are not quite what you expected, his advice was an old Southern expression: “Go with what brung ya!”
The example he gave where he put his own advice into practice was a time when he was speaking to a group of executives. When he walked into the room to speak, he saw a total of nine people in a boardroom setting. The information he had received about the audience did not indicate that few people nor that setting. He said he felt this would turn out badly because he was a humorist and it is hard to get a lot of laughs when there are only nine people in your audience.
He almost panicked, but then simply said to himself, I’ll just go with what I know. Or in his own words to me, “Go with what brung ya.” He then told me the speech went great and he followed that pattern thereafter.
This advice probably applies mainly to the experienced speaker. If you are a novice speaker, you probably don’t know what is going to be most effective. But if you have some speaking experience, you know what works best for you.
For example, I have a few stories that fit any audience. If I feel my material is not having much of an impact on a particular audience, I will tell a story that has always worked in the past. For example, because of my experience as an auctioneer, I can usually include the chant with about any of my material and that always gets the audience involved.
I have a bent pinkie finger on my right hand that is pretty obvious to those watching me speak. My short humorous piece about it always relaxes the audience and brings them back to my content.
You should have content that you do not intend to use, but it is in your memory bank. This will give you more confidence in your speech even if you do not use any of this backlog of material.
That is one of the reasons you should, as soon as possible after your presentation, do a self-evaluation of what went well and what did not go well. Quickly you will learn what to have in reserve in case the presentation isn’t going well.
I always have a story to illustrate a point I am making. In writing this article I used a story to underscore my point. You see, I am “going with what brung me.”