How to adapt your speech for different audiences

When you’re giving a speech or presentation to an audience, there isn’t a one-stop-shop approach that will address every individual. Audiences, large or small, are complex and have different requirements when receiving and digesting information which needs to be considered at the planning stage of your presentation. 

A speech may also need to be presented to different groups at different times which again, needs careful consideration. Speaker bureaus such as NMP Live often have speakers that are booked who present the same material to different audiences so they have to adapt to ensure they connect with their listeners. 
 

Adapting your speech based on your audience size should be one of your first action-points. Larger audiences often have little or no audience participation, so you need to ensure that your speech fills the time slot allocated. 

It’s also much harder to attain the attention of a larger group of people so your tone and body language is more important than ever and maintaining eye contact with as many individuals around the room is imperative to keep them engaged. 

For smaller audiences, when giving a speech or presentation, they often have more opportunity to be a lot more conversational and relaxed. This means you’ll need to prepare enough material to fill the time slot if needed but allow for questions or comments throughout while still delivering your message in the time you have.  
 

The second hurdle to overcome when presenting to audiences is that you naturally have lots of different types of people in the room that learn and take in information in many different ways. As a general rule, there are 4 different ways in which people learn; visual, auditory, reading and writing and kinaesthetic (VARK). 

By including elements of each learning style in your speech or presentation will help to engage more of your audience. Slides and images for visual learners, emphasising your tone or using sound effects for auditory learners, providing copies of the slides which can be annotated by the listener and interactive parts of the speech will all assist in connecting with different audiences.

While there will certainly be different types of people listening to your speech, there are a few considerations that you can make depending on where and when you are talking. Considering demographics is important as you may be a specialist event which then you may find that you are talking to a particular age group, gender or profession. 

This will give you some commonalities that you can leverage to create an initial connection through adjusting your tone, content or directly acknowledge certain things that will resonate with their demographic.

Alongside demographics, certain events or scenarios will give insight into your audiences perceptions, values and attitudes which similarly, can be used to adjust how you present and structure your speech. You can create empathy around their values or attitudes at the beginning of your speech which will help to create a relationship with the audience before you present your rehearsed content.

 

Another way in which you’ll need to adapt your speech is whether you are addressing other experts in the same field as the speech subject, or if you are talking to beginners or an audience with limited knowledge around the topic. 

Adjusting your speech to target these two types of audience will be a bigger and more difficult task than adapting to different demographics or learning styles. The most effective way to do this is to create two versions of your speech or presentation that have different content entirely. Trying to target both experts and beginners with the same presentation could alienate both parties and result in the loss of engagement completely.


No matter how much you prepare and adapt your content for who you’ll be talking to, you may find yourself in the situation whereby you are losing audience engagement during your speech. It’s imperative that you read and act on these signals which can be anything from lack of eye contact, yawning or your listener being on their phone. 

Take the time to observe and gauge the reactions in the crowd and understand what they are enjoying and connecting with and what they are not. Adjust your approach to recapture their attention while being mindful not to go off subject to do this else you risk not conveying your message. 

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