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Knowing Your Audience: Who ARE They.?!

October 3, 2013
Bored audience

A lively bunch

Have you ever stood up in front of an audience, taken a look round and thought to yourself: OMG, what am I doing here?  These people are not what I expected.  They don’t look very friendly. In the immortal words of Butch Cassidy, who are these guys?

It happened to me in my very early days of public speaking.  I won this club’s Humorous Speech contest with a speech full of anecdotes about the extraordinary characters I used to live amongst on a small Caribbean island.  The speech contained a number of passages delivered in [ACCENT!] my best Jamaican accent, man – man, it was seriously irie!

The next round was the Area Contest.  At the time, there were only two clubs in London, Corinthians and our mother club, Grosvenor Square, three in the commuter belt, in Epsom, Windsor and Maidenhead, and one in a market town which shall remain nameless, right down on the South coast – which is where the area contest was held.

I showed up and the atmosphere was so alien I could have been on Mars.  My own club was a mélange of different nationalities, ages and 50/50 male/female.  In this corner of Little England, it was 90% male, 95% middle-to-old aged and 100% English.  Tea and cakes were served on arrival and our hosts all had their pinkies out.  My admittedly raunchy speech, which had inspired many a hearty guffaw at the club contest, was received in stony silence.  It was excruciatingly inappropriate to an audience of waxworks.

The first rule of preparing any speech is to know your audience.  A little bit of preparation is all it takes – an email or two, a phone call, a few minutes on the internet.  Who will be there?  What age group?  What sex?  What educational background?  What cultural sensitivities?  If yours is a business talk, what managerial level will they be?  What qualifications?  Will they be there voluntarily or instructed to attend?  Are they expecting to be educated or entertained – or both?

There used to be a guideline amongst London clubs that talking about sex, religion and politics was taboo.  This was always a bit of a puzzle, since what else was there to speak about?  So we wrote to HQ and obtained further guidance. The answer was rather sensible: speeches containing references to sex, religion or politics should be mindful of the sensitivities of the audience.  Fair enough. In other words, know your audience.  So, references to hammers and tongs are probably out – I kid you not, we had a speech at this club a few years ago where such a scene was enacted, energetically, with full body movement – including pelvic thrusts!  And with an admirable if wholly inappropriate repertoire of vocal variety – from grunts to shrieks!  We members of the audience were all cringing and squirming in our seats at the crass insensitivity of the speaker.

This is not to imply, however, that sex is off the agenda at this club.  On the contrary, it is most welcome, if delivered tastefully and preferably humorously.  It is fine, for example, to tell us tales of your concupiscent youth, or of your night of luuurve, or all about your latest hobby – of swinging!  Just spare us the graphics!

In summary, the first rule of preparing to speak is to know your audience.  Having been a member of this club for very many years, I can safely say I know this audience.  Or, should I say: [ACCENT] man, me know dis a’dience real irie…!


One Comment leave one →
  1. mark permalink
    October 4, 2013 8:13 pm

    Great presidential message Vaughan, though preferred it live with the dodgy Jamaican accent, it reminded me of a drunk uncle!

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