Speaking Tips: Different Keys for Different Audiences


Today, I gave a speech at McConnell Air Force base to the Toastmaster’s club there, and to the special guests from the base “Route 56 club”. If you’re not familiar with that group, it is composed of Junior NCOs (non-commissioned officers) that comprise most of the first line supervisors at the base. About 20 total were in attendance, and I gave a presentation that I titled “Three Keys to Better Presentations”.

For this audience, my three keys included the things that I felt would be the biggest pain points for this group, and the way to best improve their skills for their jobs.

My first key was “Know Your Audience”. I spoke about the difference between giving a safety briefing at a commander’s call (which some of the audience had done) and the types of briefings you might give a visiting VIP vs. a new Airman in your duty section. I told my own story of giving monthly status briefings while a member of the communications squadron, and how a change in leadership can result in a whole new tactic for those presentations.

Second, I talked about reducing their dependence on Power Point. I found out that many of them had heard the phrase “the slides should speak for themselves”, which is common on military presentations. But I gave them a few tips for reducing their PPT footprint and ways to avoid staring at the wall when they speak.

Finally, I talked about the need to practice your presentations, and proceeded to demonstrate my own preparedness by tripping on a cord at the end of the presentation. As I exited the stage, I was able to use a callback to my own point by saying, “If I had practiced at the site this morning, I could have avoided tripping on that cord just now”.

I did miss an opportunity to use a callback to the Toastmaster, who mentioned his own misconception that Toastmasters were “stuffy shirts” and that’s why he waited so long to join. Since I’m now a “business casual” dresser, I should have used that in my introduction to uncover some humor in the situation, but I didn’t.

Just like I said in my “know your audience” point, you have to tailor your presentations to your audience. I believe I was able to provide some useful information in a short time, and show my audience the advantage of Toastmasters and the advantage of proper preparation for their future presentations.

There are many keys to successful presentations…what are yours?

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