Town hall or town bore?

20 November 2020  |  Rich M

7 questions before a town hall for an audience-focused speaker

1. What have I been asked to talk about and why?

Before you hare off designing a talk, qualify and question the intentions of the organiser. Particularly question how rigid they are on the requested topic and the time they have given you. Invariably, organisers are hurriedly trying to fill a schedule on a theme. Don’t blindly go along with it. They may be happy for you to make suggestions or do something different.

2. What does the audience care about and have questions about?

The trick is to overlap your topic with things the audience cares about. This is harder than it sounds. Try listing out all of the concerns, unanswered questions or curiosities the audience may have on your topic (or you). Triage these so that you understand how to tailor your content directly to their interests. That is what being ‘audience-focused’ means. 

3. What do I want the audience to remember about me, and my topic?

This should not be a long list. Restrict yourself to one characteristic (approachable, for example). And, one or two key business messages. Design your approach so that your approachability comes through. With your messages, consider that workers’ heads are already overflowing. They can’t process and retain much of what you say. Less is more.

4. How should I separate my content into a number of discrete chunks and order them?

When listening to someone explain something new, the human mind appreciates two things; signposting and grouping. Signposting: this is indicating to the listeners where you are heading so they can follow along. Grouping: the mind naturally attempts to sort information into distinct groups. Help your listeners by doing this for them using subheadings. A good rule of thumb is to start with the most important item. Then, use your judgement for the rest.

5. What anecdotes, historical references or parallels can I draw on to illustrate my points?

The more your messages are businessy, vanilla and predictable the less memorable they will be. Think laterally about how you bring them to life. If your message were about ‘underwriting standards’ you could talk about underwriting standards. Or you could tell the story of Cuthbert Heath’s approach to underwriting during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and draw parallels (or contrasts) to modern underwriting standards. It’s memorable.

6. How can I start strong and finish strong?

Your maximum point of impact is the start. Don’t waste it with platitudes. Your second maximum point of impact is the end. A clumsy withering because you have run out of time misses an opportunity. Use the start and the end to reaffirm what’s important.

7. If I had to cut away 25% of the content, what would I cut?

No-one will be annoyed with you for finishing early. Typically, people have too much content, not too little. As Robert Graves said, ”A writer’s best friend is the waste paper basket”.