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Using an audience-centered approach to speaking will make you a better leader and educator.

The most important thing you can do when you’re preparing to deliver a speech or teach a class is to get to know your audience.

The more you know about their background, their level of knowledge with the topic, and what they expect to learn from you, the better you can connect and engage with them.Familiarity with your audience also makes it more likely that they’ll understand the content and materials.

Below are four pre-work assignments and in-class exercises you can do to get to know your audience:

Create an Audience Profile

A few weeks before the class, prepare a brief survey using a free online survey software and questionnaire tool, such as Survey Monkey, that allows you to gather information about the participants. This information will most likely include details such as age, gender, education level, religion, language, and culture.

In addition to demographic information, ask some open-ended questions regarding what they already know about the topic you’re teaching, what they would like to learn, why your message is important, and how they hope to use what they’ll learn from your class. Keep the survey short and sweet (no more than 15 questions). Use the results to adjust your message.

Solve a Problem

To make sure you understand why your topic is important to the participants and what they hope to learn from your presentation, send everyone an email asking them to vividly describe a problem they’re grappling with that you and the other participants can help them solve during class.

Plan to take time during class to break into small groups and discuss how each person’s challenging problem might be resolved.Facilitate the discussion so it relates back to the content you’re teaching. This allows you not only to honor your audience’s needs but also to tangibly demonstrate how the material can be applied to real-world problems.

Get Personal

One of the best ways to get to know your audience is to actually speak directly with them about their needs and what benefits they’re looking to gain from the class.

Schedule a few individual meetings—either on the phone or face-to-face—so you can describe the class and get feedback about what success will look like for the participants.

Align your message with what the audience already knows and what they want to learn. When you know what they know, you’ll be less likely to talk over their heads or bore them to death.

Start the Conversation

If you aren’t able to do any of the pre-work assignments, start the session with a buzz conversation. Have all of the participants stand and pair up with a person they don’t know. Give everyone a chance to introduce him or herself, and then start a timer. For the next three minutes, ask everyone to share with their partner what they hope to get from your class. When the timer goes off, start a new in-class exercise.

Next, take about 15 minutes and have everyone pair off with another participant and a set of guiding questions about the topic. While everyone is talking, circle the room and gather information about what the audience already knows, their attitude toward the topic, and what they want to achieve. Adjust your presentation based on these brief exercises to better engage this specific audience.

Looking to further your leadership development skills? We can help.

Adriano understands how to increase your returns on leadership. He works with professionals in world-class organizations that include Philip Morris, Microsoft, the World Bank, Johns Hopkins University, the US Marine Corps, the State Department and NASA.  A skilled experiential educator with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of ParticipAction Consulting, Inc., a firm committed to help clients redefine change, collaboration and power in their organizations. He co-authored "Teachable Moments of Leadership"  with Jill Hufnagel in 2016, on a learning methodology that gets results by going from PowerPoint to …powerful!

Adriano Pianesi | adriano@pianesi.com