Know Your Audience!

From 1869 to 1924, Russell Conwell delivered a speech, “Acres of Diamonds,” 6,152 times. With the money he earned, he helped establish Temple University. How could one give the same speech over 6,000 times? The key was his knowledge of his audiences. Before a speaking engagement, he would go into the city or community and talk to the people who lived there. Conwell would ask the movers and shakers in the community about their concerns, their problems, and their successes. Then in the speech he would relate the basic idea to specific situations in that community. Mr. Conwell was successful because he was audience specific with the content of his presentation.

The same principle holds true today. If you want to be successful in your presentations, not only must you prepare your presentation, you must also prepare specifically for the audience you are addressing. No matter how much time you spend on the speech and your PowerPoint presentation, it will not be effective if you do not also spend time on the audience to which you will speak. Here are some ways you can prepare for a specific audience.

Talk to the person who is responsible for your speaking to that group. Since this person has a vested interest in your success, they will be happy to give you time to discuss the audience. Ask questions such as “What do you want to happen as a result of my presentation?” “What issues should I be aware of that might affect the content of my speech?”

Ask for copies of inhouse publication. These will help you focus on jargon of the organization, recent successes, problems, or concerns. These publications might also help you know the names of prime movers in the organization.

Talk to people who will be in the audience. You might get names of these people from the person who asked you to speak. Ask those previous questions to these folks.

Talk to previous speakers to that group. Ask your contact for names of those people. The following are appropriate questions to ask: “If you were speaking to this group again, what would you do differently?” “What parts of your speech seemed to get the best response from this group?” “What do you remember best about this audience?”

Get to the meeting early and talk to audience members. Sometimes last-minute information will be the key to your success as a speaker. Events of the day in that organization might be utilized in your presentation.

You really are not prepared if you have not studied the audience. You may have an interesting introduction, excellent organization, relevant evidence for your points, outstanding visuals, and a dramatic conclusion and still have a mediocre presentation if you have not spent time preparing for the specific audience. It is knowing your audience that makes the difference!

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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