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“Once I was booked to speak for a large national corporation that sold its products through retailers and distributors across the country. I was brought in to speak just after the organization’s executives had made a major announcement. The announcement was that in 30 days the company was going to begin selling its products directly to customers, and it was going to do so at the same prices that the salespeople would be offering. The difference was that the company would credit the sales commissions it would normally pay to its salespeople back to the customers if they bought directly from the factory.

As you can imagine, the salespeople in the audience were in a mild state of shock. Their entire lives and incomes were dependent upon the commissions they earned from selling through the distributor network. Now, with the change in company policy, the distributor network could purchase directly from the company at the same prices or with commissions credited back. The salespeople had had the chair kicked out from underneath them.

The company brought me in and paid my fee to motivate the salespeople to go out and work harder in any case, even though their primary source of income had been dramatically diminished.

I still remember looking out at the audience. They looked stunned and unbelieving. They looked at me as though I were an enemy, conjured up by the corporation, to smooth over what the company had just done to hurt them in their pocketbooks. Because I knew all of this, I was at least prepared to speak effectively to an unresponsive and, in many cases, negative audience. It pays to take the time to find out what is going on in the company or group.

Do Your Homework—Go Beyond Demographics and Traits

When you are speaking to people in a specific industry, business association, or other organization, you must find out everything you can about what is going on professionally with those people before you get up to speak. Is the market good or bad for what they are selling? Are they growing, staying flat, or are they declining in the current market? What are the business and political trends that are affecting them at this moment? Here are some other things to check on when planning a speech or presentation.

Consider What’s Happening in Their Businesses

I was once called in to speak to a large group of managers of a major multinational corporation. The company had just announced a series of layoffs of managers at all levels, and I was speaking to the survivors. However, just before I arrived to give my talk on personal productivity and leadership effectiveness, the company announced even more management layoffs and that many of the people in the audience would be cut within the next 30 days. As a result, my audience was less than responsive and enthusiastic. The only things that listeners could think of while I was talking were that they might be next. This is not a good situation. But it is essential that you know about it. Take the time to find out.

Find Out What the Local Environment Is Like

Know what is going on in the city in which you are speaking. For example, in several cases, I’ve spoken in cities where the local team either won or lost a championship within the last day or two. It is important that you are aware of this and that you mention it in your introductory remarks. Otherwise, the audience will often be preoccupied with the sporting event and will feel that you are an outsider who does not know or understand them

Keep in Mind Who Else They’ve Heard Lately

Another part of preparation is to learn about your audience’s other experiences with speakers. Who else has spoken to this audience and on what subjects? How did listeners react to the other speakers and to their subjects? Did they like what they heard? Were they disappointed with a previous speaker? If so, why? If they liked the previous speaker, what was the reason? What did he or she say?

At a longer meeting, it’s important to know who will be speaking before you. What subjects will they speak on? You should also know who spoke to the audience at the last meeting and how it reacted to those speeches.

Tailor Your Talk to the Audience’s Specific Concerns

Recently, I was speaking to a group of 4,000 people. I spent considerable time preparing my remarks, based on in-depth discussions with the key meeting organizers. As a result, my 90-minute talk wove all the main company themes, concerns, competitive challenges, and future directions into a single fabric.

After the talk, the president of the company took me aside and told me that this was one of the best talks she had ever heard. The company had hired previous speakers, at high rates, who had promised to customize and tailor their remarks to the audience but had made no effort at all to do so. She said it was immediately obvious when they began speaking that they had spent little time incorporating the company’s concerns into their speeches. As a result, they were never invited back.”- Page 23, “Speak to Win” by Brian Tracy

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