Should You Change for each Audience?

Getting ready to speak to Technology professionals

My Confession

I must confess that, in the past, I used to view some audiences as collective groups. For example, I’d think, “Okay, this is a group of engineers so I can’t bring my normal speaking style to this event.” And I’d change my style and almost always fail. Fortunately for me, another speaker pulled me aside one day and said, “Craig, they hired you for a reason. They want YOU!”


With that realization I came to see that all of our audiences are made up of individual human beings that have feelings, emotions, and ways of thinking and that you can’t just look at them as one static group. They are whole people. I say this because some speakers think they need to change their entire style to speak to certain groups. This is untrue. You need to still be you. However, you can make subtle adjustments to fit the culture of each event.

Even Thoracic Surgeons?

The first time I spoke to a group of thoracic surgeons I had doubts about bringing my energetic style to the table. I thought since they were surgeons that maybe I should leave my humor and emotions out and simply give them the logic. After all, heart surgery is serious is it not?

However, soon after I began, it hit me that they were individual human beings long before becoming surgeons. In other words, they’d like me to make them TALL (Think, Act, Laugh, and Learn) just as other audieneces would. So I gave them me. Following the presentation many of the surgeons (and some scientists) approached me and said things like:

 “Thank you for bringing this conference to life. These conferences are usually so boring.”

 “You gave me a new sense of why I do what I do. Thank you!”

 “I am so motivated to get back to my research. Do you have any tapes (that’s what we used to call them)?”

Realize that none of these comments was about the logic, but about change. Change is sparked by emotions backed up by logic. It’s very difficult to connect with peoples’ emotions when you’re not being your true self. No matter whom you address, make sure YOU are the one addressing them.


Should I ever change based on the audience?

 You don’t need to change who you are but you can certainly make adjustments to your content and your delivery. Adjust for your audience. Even though you have individuals in your audience, you can still customize your speech in ways that will help them connect with you the best. Just make sure, like everything else in speaking, the adjustments are subtle. Look at the ways many speakers adjust to certain types of audiences while retaining their own style:


Types of Engagements

Small Adjustment


Youth – A high school graduation, etc.

Grab them with a story immediately. Make the stories short and the points even shorter. Get them involved early! Think MTV. They are used to short TV clips, immediate information via the Internet, instant digital cameras, etc. In a nutshell, they are not used to waiting patiently for much.

Scientific and Engineering Professionals

Tell your stories and make your points but also include step-by-step processes they can follow. Slides with real visuals (i.e. charts, graphs, steps) can add value to the speech. Move from the right brain (emotion) to the left brain (logic) quickly. Think stories and then think step-by-step. 

Motivation – Sales group, etc.

Act the stories out with everything that you have! Bring your energy and sell your points by letting your audience know the results they can get from following those points. Think “Get fired up!”

Troubled Organizations – 

Possible merger, etc.

Connect with what is vital to them and then go into your stories and points. Start with their pain and then turn that pain into your promise. Feel free to use humor throughout to keep them loose. However, make sure the humor is self-deprecating, because they may not be in a mood to laugh at their own organization. Think hope.


Tone down everything and speak softly at least at first. You can still relate touching stories about the person who has passed. These stories can have humor as well especially if you’re celebrating the person’s life.

Very young kids – Elementary schools

Bring your characters to life as if it is story time for your own kids. Use sound effects, facial expressions, and anything else you can to keep their attention. Slip in the point.

Foreign Country –

Where yours is not their first language

Slow down your speech and realize that puns and other humor based on word-play might not work well. Research the culture far in advance of your speech so you know what’s off limits. Trust me, because I have learned the hard way! The first time I went overseas to speak, I felt like my humor must have fallen into the Pacific Ocean during the flight. Now I know to let my stories provide the humor and to speak slightly slower than usual.  


The Key to Your Connection?                                     

All in all, the key to making a connection is you. No matter what small adjustments you make please keep in mind that the audience still wants to experience the real you. Tell your stories and make your points. They hired you for a reason. They want you just the way you are.




Craig Valentine

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