Interested in knowing exactly what an audience is hoping to hear? Here's the best way to choose a great speech topic.
If you're looking for a way to guarantee that audiences will be interested in your speeches, I have a technique for you. It's simple, elegant, powerful—and sure to intrigue listeners while engaging them emotionally.
The reason you can be sure it will succeed, is because it's the audience itself that decides what you're going to talk about.
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Let's look at how most speakers decide on a topic, and why the approach I'm going to discuss is so much more effective.
How to Let Your Topic Choose Itself
Most of us understand that the reason we present before an audience is because of our subject matter expertise. And that's fine, to a certain extent. After all, why would anyone listen to us if we weren't knowledgeable about our topic?
The problem is that most speakers stop there. But think about that: the public speaking event isn't about you, it's about your audience. The most natural and inhibiting aspect of successful public speaking is exactly where speakers land: putting themselves in the center of the picture. But what about the people who are there to be influenced? If you place your audience front and center instead, even when it comes to deciding upon a topic, you'll be pointed the right way.
Proceeding like this is an integral part of The Genard Method of building and delivering great presentations. I call this part of the Method my "3 Steps to Achieving Influence." The steps involve (1) understanding your audience, (2) discovering the purpose of your talk, and (3) knowing how to engage and activate listeners.
Achieving Influence: Audience, Purpose, Engagement
STEP ONE: Too many speakers work in a vacuum in the build phase of their talks. They focus on that "subject matter expertise" I mentioned earlier, leaving listeners out of the picture! But your audience itself is exactly the right source of information concerning what they are hoping to hear from you. So start there. Here's more on why you should conduct an audience analysis.
STEP TWO: Let's say you do this and analyze the group to understand who they are and what they're looking for. You consider their make-up, expectations and preferences, types of information they're looking for, and most of all, how you might activate them. This knowledge will allow you to come up with a specific purpose in terms of what you're trying to accomplish with this group. Use a theater-based technique, similar to a character's intention that an actor plays, by giving yourself an infinitive action verb: "To inspire . . . to reassure," etc.
Your topic has just announced itself. You will talk about exactly what will help you fulfill this purpose with this audience, based on their needs right now. From there, it's an easy step to put together your actual material. You simply include everything that will help you accomplish this action purpose, and leave out anything that won't be useful in doing so.
Will You Stop Being Brilliant, Please?
STEP THREE: You've given yourself a great speech topic, because it's as close as you can make it to what this audience actually needs. It's a powerful way to decide upon the subject of your talk, because it's all about them, not you. Truly, it's time to stop being brilliant and get good at connecting with your audience.
To do that, you need to bring in the third element of achieving influence: engagement. That's where performance comes in.
And that's what I'll talk about next time.
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