Know Your Audience

Stop rolling your eyes. I can see it now, “Oh brother, this again.”

Don’t brush this one over.

It’s easy to categorize your audience into their known titles: sales team, college students, the board of directors, major donors, C-level executives; or include their demographic makeup such as Women, LGBT, Black, Midwest, college educated and so on. Then, once you do, you address them based on fickle and arbitrary idea you think that mean. It can, and most likely will, cost you dearly to reduce your audience to only those characteristics. That only captures a small part of your audience.

When I say “know your audience,” yes, I’m talking about the people, that’s obvious, but professional speakers are much more nuanced and considerate than that.

During Oprah’s last show she closed her run as the Queen of Daytime television by saying, “‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’ Understanding that one principle, that everybody wants to be heard…has worked for this platform, and I guarantee you it will work for yours. Try it with your children, your husband, your wife, your boss, your friends. Validate them. ‘I see you. I hear you. And what you say matters to me.’”

Try it on your audience as well. Do your best to see them, to hear their wants and needs, and do what you can to let them know that they, their wants, and their needs matter to you.

Knowing your audience is an act of generosity, consideration, and acknowledgment. So, who’s your audience?

Your audience is a person or group of people who are engaged with you for a very distinct purpose, during a specific time of their life, in a specific place, with expectations in mind.

Let’s break this down:

1) Your audience is A PERSON OR GROUP OF PEOPLE…

Whether you’re chatting with me via Facebook messenger, talking with an agent one-on-one over the phone, speaking in front of an entire sales team at their headquarters, or presenting at an annual conference of several thousand people — your audience is anyone who is ready to engage with you. They are there for you. Don’t bore them; deliver and delight them. Give them what they want and more.

2) …who are ENGAGED WITH YOU…

Your audience can be doing anything, anywhere, with anyone. When they’re in front of you they are choosing to spend time that they’ll never get back, with you. Respect that choice and respect their time. Be prepared for the engagement. It’s not your show. It’s a dance. Honor the dance.

3) …for a very DISTINCT PURPOSE…

There’s a reason your audience is engaging with you. Understand it. Why is your audience engaging with you? Why are they there? Is it because a friend asked them to meet with you, and they’re doing their friend a favor? Is it because they are required to attend the sales meeting? Is it because they are major donors who only attend the annual gala to see how their money has been spent? What’s the purpose of them being there? Again, there’s a reason they’re engaging with you, what is it? If you know and understand the reason you’ll be better prepared to deliver and delight.

4) …during a SPECIFIC TIME of their life…

In the speaking industry, if you’re speaking with a college agent toward the end of June, which is the beginning of the off-peak season, there’s a vast difference than if you’re speaking with a college agent in October during the middle of the Fall peak season. Late in June, the agent will have more time to spend with you, and won’t be as rushed. Whereas in the middle of peak season, it may be the opposite. Or, you may have a story that has major significance and relevance around the world and the agent would love to speak with you at any moment, especially peak season. Or are you reaching out to an agent during their lunch break? Or are you speaking to an audience right before lunch versus after lunch? Or was there a market crash in your audience’s industry and if so how does that affect your engagement? What’s going on in your audience’s life and how can you engage with them in a way that acknowledges and respects their situation? Any circumstance can impact who your audience is and how you engage them.


If you’re presenting to a team of folks in New Orleans a year after Hurricane Katrina, why? Does the event organizer want you to inspire folks, to raise money for a fund, to have more businesses invest in the area? There’s a reason you’re meeting and presenting in a given location. Figure out why and it will go a long way to having you prepare for and deliver what’s wanted and needed. If you’re having your tenth meeting with an agent in a cafe versus their office? Why? Do they not think you’re established enough as a speaker to have you meet their entire team? If so, ask them? What do I have to do to meet the rest of your team? Take notes and do what’s necessary to meet in a location that matters to you. There’s reason folks say, “I can’t believe I’m playing Madison Square garden.” Location, in it of itself, hold a connotation and context. Learn what they are where you’re meeting and it can help you assess where you are (in life/career) and prepare for what’s next or now.

6) with (clear or unclear) EXPECTATIONS in mind.

All expectations essentially boil down to, “What’s in it for me?” It can be as benevolent as “I want to feel good by helping someone” to “I want to discover the next most requested speaker in the country” to “I want to increase my sales/ donations” to “I want to inspire my team.” Your audience — be it your friend, co-worker, boss, agent, a theater full of people, or major donors — is getting something out of engaging with you. If you can identify what that something is *and* speak to it, it will go a long way. Having your audience believe that you see them, you hear them, and what they say (implicitly or explicitly) matters to you can make all the difference.

So, knowing your audience is recognizing:

  • If you’re speaking with a time-crunched agent, the agent may appreciate you being considerate of their time (because they’re timed crunched and you’re aware of that and that matters to you). Get to the point of the conversation, specifically landing on how and why they should pitch you to their clients (do not be boring!), or;
  • If you’re speaking at a gala, the event organizer would appreciate it if you did whatever was wanted and needed to get the donors in the room to give more money than they ever gave before. To do that, you may want to learn about who’s in the room, why they’re in the room, what matters and connects to their heart (it may not merely be the efforts of the nonprofit). You could do as some speakers I’ve worked with have done and make an announcement at the end of your presentation, “Thank you for allowing me to share my story. We’re all at this gala for a reason. We believe in the great work being done here and in order for it to continue we each have to do our part to support. There are envelopes on your table. I would love to meet and chat with all of you and hear about what you’re up to. I’ll be standing by the front door holding a box. Please stop by, chat with me, and drop your check in the box!” That effort would make the event organizer look great for inviting you to speak and in turn make your agent look great for recommending you, or;
  • If you’re chatting with a friend who can support you via Facebook messenger during the work day, it would be great if you sent a Calendly invite and said, “I know you’re probably working and are busy now, but I would love to connect with you about blah blah blah. Can you talk sometime this week? If so, select a time that works for you.” (Then copy and paste the link to your Calendly)

When you can anticipate someone’s expectations during an encounter, and generously address those expectations, you set yourself apart from the rest of the folks out there, many of whom are self-centered dotards (I know, it’s not really fitting but I just had to. Forgive me).

Knowing your audience is much more than knowing who’s in the room. It’s knowing why they’re in the room, why they’re in the room at this specific time, what they will gain from being in the room at the specific time, and much more. Don’t be lazy, don’t be arrogant, and don’t be inconsiderate to the people who are giving their time to be in front of you. Not knowing your audience is just rude. When you’re considerate people are more apt to work with you either as an agent that may potentially represent you or a host organization that may book or recommend you.

So, know your audience.