Here is a question for you. When you are invited to speak, do you prepare your presentation for delivery “to” your audience or “for” that audience? Recently, I was asked that question, and my answer was both. But is there a difference? Although many speakers regard preparing and presenting “to” or “for” as semantics, I believe it is not in some cases. There are some critical differences between the two that must be observed.
When preparing “for” an audience, most speakers begin by researching the values, beliefs, characteristics, interesting facts, and demographics of the organization that invited them. For example, age, gender, ethnicity, lifestyle, and membership tenure should be considered if it is a group like a Toastmasters or Rotary club. The speaker will most likely also have a list of questions to ask their point of contact about the group to understand better the topics that will resonate best at that engagement.
However, when preparing to deliver a presentation “to” an audience, the expectations of both speaker and audience are often different. The speaker must remember that audiences prefer to avoid being lectured or preached to when they do not plan to attend such an event. Understanding the audience’s demographics is similar, but having some idea of why you were selected as their speaker and the information they are seeking will help you determine how much is too much and how deep you are expected to go into your chosen topic.
In both cases, when facing an audience as a speaker, you aim to make a strong connection. Therefore, it is wise to base the presentation on your experiences and knowledge of a subject you can confidently address. The speaker should also remember that some members of that audience may be an expert in the subject matter of the topic you have chosen. If the speaker is familiar with the group, rhetorical questions stimulate participation. However, it is best to keep the interaction formal and maintain control of the presentation.
When you, the presenter, are also a member of the organization you are addressing, it is ok to take liberties with your language and speaking style. There is where you develop your speaking for all occasions. But when facing an audience for the first time, it would be wise to rely on your basic instincts, observations, and experience to help you make the best possible connection to leave a lasting first impression on that audience. And you will know that you were successful if or when you are invited to speak again.
Lifestyle can also be an indicator of the values, beliefs, and characteristics of your audience. Compare what you learned from your research with your first impressions and adjust as necessary. Age, gender, ethnicity, and culture often influence our ability to relate to some topics and audience participants. To make a good connection, meet your audience where they are. Speak to your audience’s level of understanding. Tailor your presentation so that you will not leave any unanswered questions at the end. Answered questions can quickly become a distraction to your audience.
Where possible, cite sources for the information you are presenting. Your details about your subject matter will add credibility to you as the speaker. Also, your delivery will determine how well or if your message is being received. As you continue your delivery, read your audience. The reactions you observe are real-time feedback that allows you to make real-time adjustments. You, the speaker, must know exactly what you want your audience to think, feel, or do after hearing and experiencing your presentation.
When your message is clear, concise, and “you” focused, your audience’s understanding of your content increases as you continue presenting. If your delivery is all “to” or all “for” your audience, that can be a recipe for failure. Prepare the presentation that allows you to switch your presentation style. Decide where and when you will do your switching. One approach that works well is the: “one-to-many speaking method.” Speak to one as you deliver to many. Speak to many for the message to resonate with each one.
When you focus on the values, beliefs, and characteristics of the audience you are facing, you will make a powerful connection. It is not about you; it’s all about your audience. Keep a hip pocket power phrase that is your anchor to get you back on track if you go or are taken off-topic. And always remember, whether your presentation was delivered “to” or prepared “for” your audience, your success or failures on the platform depend mainly on how well you connected. And making a good connection begins with that important question: Is your presentation prepared for delivery “to” your audience or “for” that audience?
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