Sadly, some speakers behave as if, for all practical purposes, their audience doesn't exist.
This alarmingly incorrect assumption shows up in a number of ways. Such as when a speaker announces at the start of content development, "This is what I want to say." Hello! It's not just about you. It's about you and what the audience wants and needs to hear.
I flashed on the "audience doesn't exist" phenomenon in a dramatic way early in my speechwriting career.
Decades ago, I began working with a VP in a Fortune 50 company with a heavy speaking schedule. The first speech I wrote for him dealt with the basic, underlying messages of his organization. The audience was an industry group in
For the second speech, to a general business audience in
I was stunned. Two distinct audiences. Two separate cities. And he didn't know the difference. It dawned on me that, for him, the audience really didn't exist. As far as he was concerned, he was the audience.
This was an extreme case -- but less dramatic variations of the "audience doesn't exist" phenomenon are not extreme. They are unfortunately very common.
Not realizing what audiences want and need to hear is the root cause of thousands and thousands of poorly received speeches and presentations.
By and large, speakers don't fail because of problems with delivery. Speakers fail because their content doesn't connect with the audience. Most audiences want the speaker to succeed. When the content connects with them -- and the speech is working -- they're pretty forgiving of shortcomings in delivery.
Right now, at this moment, a speaker is failing to connect with listeners because the speaker doesn’t have a fully realized sense of his or her audience. This is a loss for the speaker -- and an even bigger loss for the audience.