Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tough Topics, Tough Audiences Part I: Know Your Objective & Your Audience

As environmental professionals, Bren students and alumni are often tasked with communicating complex environmental problems and solutions to "non-environmental" audiences. These audiences can sometimes be unreceptive or even hostile, and speaking to them can be quite a challenge. On February 26th, the 2010 Doris Duke Fellows hosted a workshop entitled 'Tough Topics, Tough Audiences' where public speaking coach Lisa Braithwaite helped Bren students prepare for these difficult situations. The following is an excerpt from her informative presentation. For more on Coach Lisa B., visit her website or blog. You should also check out the excellent resources page she set up for Bren students.

Talking about difficult topics takes courage, tact and humor, especially when you go into a situation already knowing there might be antagonism. But it's important to remember that your audience can also be receptive, responsive and grateful--don't forget that! Don't assume with a hostile or difficult audience that there aren't people there whose lives you're going to change.

Even in difficult situations, the presenter is responsible for the audience's understanding and if you, as the speaker, are not able to get your message across, then you need to find a way to improve! What is most important is meeting the needs of your audience. It
's not about YOU; it's about getting your message across to your audience and anyone can do this with proper preparation.

Know Your Objective & Your Audience

In order to know the objective of your talk, you have to know your audience. Are they beginners? Do they know absolutely nothing about your topic, or are they experts? Are they contrarian? Knowing the answers to these questions will affect the type of presentation you give.

There are three basic questions you should try to answer about your audience:
  1. Why are they there?
  2. What are their needs?
  3. What do you want them to do as a result of your talk?
There are many ways to find the answers to these questions. If it's a smaller audience or panel, read their backgrounds or CVs. If you're speaking to a group, familiarize yourself with the perspective or mission of the organization. If it's feasible, send out an online questionnaire in advance to find out what the audience wants. Talk to the event organizer to get information about the group. The more you know about your audience, the more you can serve their particular needs. Try to always give your audience something of value and something that is relevant or applicable to their lives.

Think about these issues before you even start creating your presentation: know who you're talking to, why, what they want, and what you want them to do. Then you'll have a real objective, and you can create a presentation for that specific audience.

Check back soon for Tough Topics, Tough Audiences Part II: Prepare, prepare prepare!

--Audrey Tresham

1 comment:

  1. These might be the best recaps of my workshop that I've ever read! Thanks so much for posting them (parts I and II).