Shoe shifting: the art of stepping out of your shoes as speaker, into the shoes of your audience.

In my last blog post, I told you that the one thing you need to do if you want to make your technical talk interesting is to stop thinking that this speech is about you, and realise that it is about your audience.

You need to start shifting perspective, and seeing the subject through their eyes.

“Ok – how do I do that?” I hear you cry.

“Thank you so much for asking,” I reply 🙂

Here you go for the 1-2-3 of shoe shifting.

1. Think long and hard about your audience

No two talks and no two audiences are the same.

Face it, if you are talking about new accounting standards and you want to resonate with your audience, your story must be different depending on whether your audience comprises chief accountants or the IT team in charge of implementing the systems.

So, the first thing you need to do before starting to work on your presentation is think about your audience, so that:

  • you can focus your mind on the level of expertise in the audience and avoid using too much jargon, speaking instead the language of the audience;
  • you can understand the world your audience lives in, so you can find examples and analogies that resonate with them; and
  • finally, you can identify unspoken questions or concerns the audience might have about you or the subject, so you can decide whether to deal with them during or after your speech.

Here are a few questions for you to think about:

  • Who will be in the audience? What is their role, their background and experience of the subject? Their expectations about your presentation, and any preconceptions they might have of you as a speaker?
  • What’s important to them right now? What do they need to know? What is their pain point – the problem they need help to solve – and what are the things they hold dear?
  • Finally, what questions are they likely to have? These questions could be about you, or about the subject – they might be questions that they are ready to voice, or they may be silent questions that will never see the light of day, but that will nonetheless prevent them from being completely present for your talk.


2. Articulate your why

Why do you want to talk about this particular subject to this particular audience?

There could be a whole bunch of reasons for this, including, for example:

  • “my boss told me to”;
  • “there’s new legislation and everyone else is talking about it”; or even
  • “quite frankly this is the easiest bit of the whole lot and the only thing I know about”.

Hmmm – ok – to be fair, at some point in time, I would probably have had any one of these reasons (particularly the last one in the early days 😉 )

So, lets get even more specific – and also lets formulate it putting the audience in the centre of your thought process.

What is it that you want the audience to do, think or feel as a result of this talk?

Maybe you want the audience to take an action – like change something in the way that they record expenses in the accounts; or take a decision – for example to invest in implementing new Data Protection rules well in advance of the deadline.

Perhaps you want the audience to see you as an expert in your field with the experience and credibility to provide them with the best service; maybe you want them to get excited about the opportunities available as a result of the new developments, and see you as the best equipped to help them maximise these opportunities.

Clarity about your “Why?” will help you connect to your audience and bring your subject to life because:

  • It will help you find a clear “red line” throughout your talk, the glue that will bring your talk together;
  • It will help you keep things simple, your ideas precise, and it will help you place “sign posts” throughout your presentation to help get your audience where you want them to be; and
  • It will help you come across as organised and consistent in your message, which in turn will reinforce your credibility and enrich your connection with the audience.


3. Find the overlap

As you look back over the last two steps: what starts to appear as the overlap: where the audience and what’s important to them, starts to overlap with the subject and why you want to talk about it.

By looking for that overlap, you will be able to:

  • identify your key messages from the perspective of the audience rather than yourself – and in turn resonate more strongly with your audience;
  • identify what must absolutely stay in your talk, and what can be left out; and
  • identify the benefit to the audience of listening to you, so you can tell them up front, and maximise the potential for them to listen to you all the way through.

Let me give you an example of where I have helped a client do this.

I was working with a specialist in Data protection and data privacy.  She was preparing a number of different speeches, to businesses in a number of different sectors.  The people in the audience would be primarily the bosses, not the COO or other people responsible for data protection and privacy.  Now, what was important for the bosses was their business – getting more clients, getting more revenue, etc.  One of the challenges in business nowadays, no matter the sector, is that consumers are becoming more and more wary of sharing information because they don’t know what will happen to it.

From my client’s perspective, she had a lot to say.  Not least the fact that the new regulations meant new compliance obligations, and possible penalties for the companies for non compliance.

But as we worked through these different steps and found the overlap, she discovered that yes the audience was keen to understand the compliance obligations.  But she could present her subject not just as a question of compliance obligations – but also one of opportunity for the audience.  She could show the audience how compliance with the regulations could actually lead to additional trust of the consumers in the product and service they were offering – thereby leading to more business and income.

Now what?

I know that’s been a lot, but these steps will let you:

  • Identify what’s important for the audience;
  • Be clear about your topic and your “Why”; and
  • Identify the overlaps and the benefits to your audience of listening to you.

As you proceed to work on your talk, use these questions and answers as a beacon throughout:

  • check back to them as you build and structure your talk, and find examples that will help your audience relate to the subject;
  • remember what you know about the audience as you rehearse so you avoid technical jargon; and
  • remember the benefits to the audience as you deliver your talk, and place clear sign posts along the way for the audience to get where you want them to go.

All in all, use these steps and intel to put yourself in the shoes of your audience.  This will help you identify ways to explain your subject simply, as well as create and build connection with the audience, so they can start to care about your subject.  When the audience starts to care about the subject, that is where you can really excite and inspire them, and, ultimately, you can become the kind of speaker you want to be.

(Based on an article published in AGEFI Luxembourg