Motivationally Speaking: Do You Really Know Your Audience?

As motivational speakers, many of us race out of the gate with a burning message that we just know will change the world.  We are convinced that we know what they want and how they want it. My friend Susie thinks that people need to stop worrying about body image. My friend John thinks that people need to save more and spend less. And Gerald thinks that people need to stop what they’re doing and consider the plight of the endangered condor.

When I first started as a motivational speaker, I was sure that all my audiences needed was someone to come in and make them laugh. And the less they bought it, the harder I tried to sell it. Like many motivational speakers, I spent a lot of time crafting my message and trying to impact my audience without really knowing my audience or the market. Many of us miss the important step of allowing our audience to play a part in the process of developing our brand. Often we will leave them out entirely, only bringing them in when it’s all over to evaluate our performance. Then we use those evaluations to beat ourselves up or complain that our audience doesn’t get us.

I saw the error of my ways when I spoke for a southeast association conference. The client had seen me before at a bureau showcase and knew my style. We discussed the event and its objectives and I then turned around and wrote a program based on what they wanted. Or what I thought they wanted. I thought I knew the audience. I worked long hours and did a great deal of research to prepare the perfect program. Ten minutes in and I could see that I had made a mistake. I didn’t exactly know what it was, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know you’re bombing. My client actually had a pained expression on her face.

At the first restroom break she took me to the side and whispered, “We’re tired of speakers all getting up there and doing the same thing. We wanted something different. That’s why we got you. Please throw away your notes and just do what we saw you do in your showcase.” I threw away my notes and just did my thing. I was booked eight more times from the members of that association. Turns out that what I thought they wanted wasn’t anything close what they really wanted.  I was embarrassed for a long time after that. But now I look on that as a wonderful experience because it’s those embarrassing moments that teach me the most. I learned to listen to my audience. They were telling me what they wanted from me – and when you can get your market to tell you what they want, you are unstoppable.

So how do you listen to your audience?

  1. Get evaluations or send surveys to your clients and fans asking them what they like about your program and what they would like to see more of.
  2. Listen to what they say when they come up to you after your program. They will tell you what they liked most. Pay attention.
  3. Ask people who hire you why they hired you and not somebody else. Start to learn what made people choose you.
  4. Survey your friends, fans, and clients (people who’ve seen you speak) and ask them to give you three words that they think best describe you as a speaker. Their answers may surprise you.  You may find that what you think are your best qualities really aren’t.
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