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Chapter 9: Fault #6: Not Meeting the Real Needs of Your Audience

Overview

Men are not against you. They are merely for themselves.

—Gene Fowler

Picture this: You're on an expedition to climb Mt. Everest. You're leaving base camp when you hear a thunderous noise. Avalanche! The head Sherpa turns to you and your fellow climbers and says, "You may not know this, but I've been a Sherpa for many years. My group was the only one to survive the last avalanche that hit this mountain. This is what we did to make it out alive...."

How would you listen to what this Sherpa had to say? Very carefully. Why? Because he is meeting the needs of his audience.

I once heard a woman at a conference give a speech on what new associations could do to grow, prosper, and be valuable to members. She had an audience that really cared about the topic; people had signed up for it specifically. She meandered, went off on tangents, and seldom finished a thought. She said "you know" about 75 times in a 45-minute presentation. But because she met the needs of members of her audience, she got a standing ovation. They felt she cared about them and understood what interested them. That's how important it is to be tuned in to your audience. If you are, even a poorly delivered speech can be well received; if you're not, even a polished one can fall flat.

A surprising number of speeches simply don't meet the real needs of the audience. The chief reason: The speaker feels it's enough to tell people something the speaker thinks they need to know.

In one of my many previous careers, I was a school teacher in New York City. It didn't take long for me to realize that if I didn't make information meaningful to my students, they tuned me out almost immediately. I couldn't give them a list of boring principles; everything I taught had to be relevant to their lives. So, for instance, when I taught the subject of group discussions, I asked them to play out a scenario. I told them that they were with a group of five friends trying to decide what to do on a particular Saturday night. How would they make a decision? Would one person turn out to have more influence than the others? How could they be sure everyone in the group had a say? The kids had fun with the exercise and—whether they knew it or not—learned the principles I was trying to get across.

But you can't expect your audience to have the same excitement that you do; you must develop the audience's interest. No matter how worthy, life-enhancing, or even lifesaving your topic may be, your enthusiasm is not enough. You must make those in your audience enthusiastic. They are potential skeptics, and your task is to win them over. Because you can't say everything there is to say on your topic, you need to say the things your audience needs to hear.


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