It’s not you. It’s them.

Think about the worst speaker you’ve ever heard.

Not the one who was so nervous his voice shook or the one who was so wildly uncomfortable that she stood ramrod-straight gripping the podium like a life raft, but think for a minute about a speaker who took to the stage (or conference table, or hallway conversation) with a haughty air of condescension. The one who used multi-syllable words when a common word would do and made obscure references that left you wondering what you’re missing. That speaker.

Did he or she make you feel smarter? Probably not. Leaving an encounter where you’ve been made to feel out-of-touch or not worthy doesn’t leave anyone with a positive feeling. That’s because nobody likes a know-it-all. Yet, for too many people, stepping up to the podium creates a change in personality from charming and collaborative to dictatorial.

So when you’re called on to be the expert, or the voice of authority, there’s something you must remember.

It’s not about you.

It feels like it is. You’re the one standing up there, You’re the one sharing the knowledge. You’re the one setting the tone. You’re the one running the show.

But it’s not about you.

It’s about your audience.

Good communication is not about showing how smart you are, and it’s definitely not about showing your audience members how much smarter you are than them. It’s not about how many slides you have or how complex they are. It’s not about burying people with an avalanche of numbers and charts to prove you did the work.

It’s about making your audience smarter. It’s about showing them slides that give your work meaning in their worlds.

If your audience doesn’t understand what you’re telling them and why it matters, you fail.

Plain and simple.

If the people on the other side of the podium, the conference table or the conversation don’t leave with an understanding of why they need to know the information and what they should do with it, you just wasted your time. And theirs.

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it?

It is. But it’s the truth.

That’s why the audience needs to play into every decision you make when you’re planning a presentation. Who’s in the audience? What do you want from those people? What do they need to know in order to give you what you want or help you get it? The answers to these questions will not only help you avoid being “that speaker,” but they will help you be more successful.

Who’s in the audience?

Think through who will be, or could be, in the room. Consider whether they’re executives, investors, peers, students or a mix. Tailor your information to their level of understanding and tolerance for detail.

What do you want from them?

If you’re seeking to provide them with better understanding of a concept, make sure you’re offering context and examples they can relate to in some way. If you need them to take action, make sure you’re clear about what you need them to do and what the benefits are.

What do they need to know to give you what you want?

Make sure the information you give them helps them build a case for any action they need to take. If you need them to evangelize a policy change, help them out by leading them through answers to potential questions. If you need your audience to invest money, give them the information about how the money will be used and what return they can expect.

Keep the focus on your audience and how you can help them, and I promise, you’ll never be “that speaker.”


Photo Credit: by Ralf Roletschek, Wikipedia