I was at a meeting recently and it became apparent that one of the presenters had not done his homework on who he was speaking to that morning. The pace and structure of his presentation was just fine and he had some interesting points to make, but I felt that he failed to capture the attention of the room. He didn’t connect with the people with whom he was speaking.

On one hand this is a matter of technique, but on the other it starts with knowing who you are speaking to and why those people may be there to hear you. I call this part of understanding the context and the varied layers of meaning associated with where you are at a moment in time.

If I’m called to speak with a group of people, here are the questions that usually run through my mind:

1.  Where and when will I be speaking?  The venue and time of day affects how people listen.

2.  How long am I expected to speak?  I’ll tailor my material to the expected length and make sure I have time to drive home key points. It can’t be rushed.

3.  Will I be speaking to them in a boardroom or on a stage?  This affects how I will connect with people and my mobility around the room.

4.  Will a microphone be available?  Projecting your voice is tough in a large room.

5.  Do I have the ability to walk around or will I be confined to a podium?  Walking about can be effective when trying to connect with others.

6.  How large is the audience?  12 people is very different than a room of 100 or more.

7.  Who is the audience and why are they there?  Were they required to attend?

8.  Has the audience paid money to attend or is this open to the public?  This informs the possible level of motivation and I want to make sure I am delivering value regardless if they paid or not.

9.  Why do people want to attend this event?  Is there a theme to the event and what is driving people to be here.

10.  Will I be the only speaker?  If not, what is the order?  I want to know who is speaking before me and who is speaking after. I’ll look them up and see what they are talking about and adjust my material accordingly.

11.  Will there be a question and answer period or an opportunity to speak one-on-one with people afterwards?  I like to talk to people in smaller numbers post-event.

12.  Why would someone want to come and listen to me?  This will help shape how I address the audience in terms of tone and manner.

13. Regardless of why as I was asked to address this audience, what does this audience want or need to hear?  I may tailor my presentation to a specific set of needs.

This is a list of things that I think about prior to talking with a group and I’m usually able to get most of the answers prior to the event. It’s important to me because it enables me to adjust my material to meet the needs of the audience and what may be driving them to attend.

I have found when you have a deep understanding of the context in which you are working, then you will be able to build stronger connections to the people or organizations around you. In fact, it may appear as though you’ve always been there.

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