We’re thrilled to have Samuel Eddy from Open Change Workplace Wellness guesting on the blog. Sam is a keynote speaker on the topic of mental health and corporate wellness programs. We know you’ll appreciate his thoughts on how to engage your audience every time you step on stage to speak.
A good speech is more than just great content.
There is an experience most speakers will go through in their speaking career. Giving a speech and absolutely knocking it out of the park, then following up with the exact same speech and dying onstage.
In my opinion the issue often lies in the fact that the speaker believes after the first speech that they have finally ‘worked out’ what they are doing.
But 50% of any speech or presentation is the audience.
This is more obvious in some situations than others.
With my company Open Change Workplace Wellness I give keynote speeches on workplace mental health and wellness in a range of corporate settings. I have found the type of business I am talking to has a huge impact on what the speech turns out like.
Some companies may be already well-versed in mental health, others much more skeptical. Some companies get me on board as part of a general workplace wellness program, others are being reactive and have an existing issue with employee workplace wellness.
Any one of these factors will have a significant impact on what a successful and impactful speech will look and sound like. No two audiences are exactly alike. Even if you are talking to the same group of people for a second time their relationship to you will be shaped through their experience of the first speech.
This mean the most crucial skill for consistent public speaking is the ability to read your audience.
While there is no substitute for hours on stage, I can offer three tangible tips to fast-track your audience reading abilities today.
Have An Inside Man At All Your Speeches
Whenever possible you want to get a friendly agent in the audience for every speech you give.
The best way to deconstruct how your speech went is to analyse it post-game with someone who was actually there. Having someone to bounce ideas and perception off helps you work out what worked and what didn’t.
This will take the pressure off you trying to analyse yourself while you are speaking and allow you to understand where you may have misread the mood. If you pick the right person and they are willing to come along multiple times it also provides a through-line with your performances. Continued constructive criticism is the best way to fast track performance in any field.
An important aspect to this, is making sure to work with your inside-man so that they put their attention on the right things. Condition them so that they don’t just listen to you, but also constantly tune into the people around them. That is where the real potential gold for growth is.
Learn From Other Live Performers
There are plenty of great public speakers out there but compared to other performance types it would definitely be classified as a niche pursuit.
But the performer-crowd dynamic is something that occurs in every type of live performance in some form.
Musicians, DJs, comedians, theatre actors and even university lecturers all have incredible insights into relating to the crowd and adapting their behaviour based on audience reactions. This gives you a much wider body of resources to tap into than exists if you were just to limit yourself to advice from public speakers.
If you wanted to focus on a few types of performer I would recommend DJs or comedians. This might not sound intuitive but in different ways they are the types of public performers that are required to be the most in tune with their audience. A DJ must read their crowd to get a feel for what track to play next and a comedian will die on stage if they don’t take into account whether their jokes are going over.
Because of this you will often find the best in both of these businesses will be hyper aware of crowd dynamics. Devour podcasts, articles, interviews and anything else where these type of performers talk about their craft.
Do Your Homework – Go to Public Speaking Events You’re Not Involved With
Even many seasoned public speakers get completely consumed the day they have to give a speech.
Many speakers only see others present speeches at events they are participating in. This makes it hard to focus and pick up audience awareness techniques as you will be too busy focusing on your own speech.
Being in an audience at a neutral event will give you the chance to completely focus on the way an audience moves and shifts, as well as the tricks and techniques the speaker uses to adapt their speech.
All that aside, I am a big fan of seeing a lot of public speaking if it is something you do a lot of. If speaking is your craft you should immerse yourself in it to become better. For me, a speaker that doesn’t see others speak is like a novelist who says they don’t read books – it’s shows a lack of drive and commitment.
So there are three things you can start to do right now to begin to build your audience awareness. But remember, these ideas are means to an end. The most important things to remember are: the audience is the most important thing about any speech not you AND no two audiences are exactly alike.
Samuel Eddy is the man behind Open Change Workplace Wellness. Through his company he combines his counselling background and corporate experience to deliver keynote speeches and corporate programs that promote positive ways to combat anxiety, stress and disruption in the workplace. Communication is key is a mantra that Sam is committed to, both in practice and in content.