I was recently tasked to speak to an audience of coaches known for their leadership focus. You would think that the overall audience appeal would be for a speaker who was very direct and candid – to speak in bullet points and talk about results – in order to effectively drive the message home.
But this would have been an entirely wrong approach.
This particular audience was composed of people who were, for the most part, not those kinds of leaders.
Instead, what I learned from the preliminary Strengths Profile assessments they completed was that they were first Advisors. Their leadership was not so much about results as it was about listening, interacting with others, and advising. It was people-focused more than results-focused.
Had I gone in and laser-focused on results with any degree of a hard line, I would have lost most of the audience.
As a speaker, it is critical that you know your audience.
You may not have the luxury of them having taken an assessment prior to your engagement as I did in this case, but if you arrive early and meet a good sampling of the audience, you will begin to notice that a certain strengths-based culture prevails.
If you listen closely, you will see indicators. Here are some examples.
Notice the energy of the room when you walk in.
- Is it quiet or noisy?
- Are people conversing quietly and reading, or are they moving about and chatting?
- Are they “talking with their hands,” moving swiftly, sitting comfortably, or sitting with a more structured posture?
Notice what they are wearing.
- Do you see a lot of black apparel, or do you see vibrant color?
- Even in a dark suit kind of event, if there are I-wired individuals there, you will see pops of color. They will find a way to express themselves. A serious suit with colorful socks is one such indicator.
- The cut of clothing is also an indicator. Do you see tailored clothing with meticulous detail or comfortable, more business-casual type attire?
- Even jewelry can be an indicator. If you see a lot of chunky jewelry, you will want to gear your presentation toward high, direct energy and results. Light jewelry – go lighter.
Notice what they say.
- Are they talking about results or relationships?
- Are their sentences quick and to the point, or filled with details?
- Are they casual in speech or precise?
- Are they quickly bridging from one subject to another, or are they focused?
These are all indicators of the strengths of the crowd to whom you are speaking. You will want to tailor your presentation accordingly.
You will, of course, cover the subject matter at hand; but HOW you do it will determine whether or not you truly connect with the audience.
Here are some pointers:
- If they are overall a quiet group, slow your pace just a bit and be sure you provide plenty of evidence to back up your claims. This group will want substance. And you will definitely want to be sure there are no typos in your presentation with this group.
- If they are a fast-moving, direct group, you will want to speak clearly and concisely. You will want to talk about actions and results. Bullet points on slides are key for keeping their attention, and avoid rambling at any point in your presentation. With this group, you can be more direct in what you say and how you say it. In fact, they would welcome such speech.
- If they are comfortably seated in small groups, you will want to lead with a story. These are likely groups who are strong on empathy and committed to details and teamwork. Be warm and approachable. Provide details on how to do what you are proposing and why it is important. Purpose matters to this group.
- If the first thing you noticed as you entered the room was chatter and activity, your key word is “fun.” Keep it light. Move around as you speak. Smile. Use humor to make a point. These individuals tend to think quickly, so do not belabor the details. Use color, illustrations, and props in your presentation. Where possible, let them be involved in some activity related to your presentation.
Audiences in General
Most audiences are composed of individuals of each strength. If there is an overall majority of one type or another, tailor your presentation as noted above.
If the audience strengths are more widely distributed, be sure your presentation has something for everyone…and don’t go to the extreme you would go to if the audience was predominantly one strength.
One C-wired couple tells the story of the time they went to a sales conference. It was very loud and colorful – obviously geared to the I-wired majority, which characterized the crowd. When the speaker gave his presentation, everyone cheered wildly – except the C-wired couple who saw it as having no real substance. They left at the first break.
This doesn’t mean C-wired individuals can’t sell. What it does mean is that they could not sell in the manner presented, and they knew it.
The point here is that as a speaker and leader, you must know your audience. If they are geared toward a particular strength, then go toward that strength. The natural filtering helps you create a following that fits your methodologies.
If your audience is composed of diverse strengths, include something for each, and each person will come away with value added that is particular to them.
Knowing your audience creates connection.
As the CEO of Strength Leader Development, Deb Ingino is a highly sought-after international executive mentor, coach, trainer and speaker. Deb is well versed in global business operations and helps business leaders and their teams to discover and leverage their strengths, so they can create highly collaborative teams that deliver great results. With a refreshingly direct style, Deb helps leaders and their teams to deliver profitable results. Connect with Deb to learn more about her mentorship and coaching programs to equip you with advanced strategies to elevate your results.