Do you ever feel nervous meeting strangers? Imagine if you had to speak to a room of them. If you do public speaking, this is very likely, whether it’s to another division in your company or to an entirely different organization. Not knowing anyone may make it hard for you to a get a feel for your audience and know that you’re connecting with them. Here are some quick tips designed to help make your journey into the unknown a smooth one:
Ask Questions: Is there someone you can call to find out more about the workplace culture? Is this a growing place or are layoffs coming? What level in the organization will be represented at the meeting? Ask if you’ll be talking to peers or those above or below your station. Find out what is the biggest problem or challenge for the organization.
While none of the answers may be reflected in your talk, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable knowing a bit more about the crowd. The unknown is frightening. The familiar is not.
Research With the Web: Go to the organization’s website for more information. Look at recent news items for information about the company as well as look over things like mission statements. And see what the site’s design may say about the organization. Is it very formal or a bit more friendly. While it may have been designed by an outside webmaster, it probably reflects the tone of the company.
Come Early to Observe: For any kind of speaking engagement this is always a good way to become more familiar with your audience. It can be especially helpful in gauging the mood of the group. A few years ago, I was a few minutes early for a presentation to some bankers. Before my talk, the audience was addressed by a executive. This was no pep talk, instead I watched the executive insult and threaten the group for ten minutes. I have no idea if the harsh words were merited and that’s not my concern. But seeing the episode allowed me to understand that the audience might not connect with me right away because their ears were still ringing from the tongue lashing they’d just received. Had I not come early, I would have thought the lack of attention was a result of my talk.
Arriving early also gives you a chance to look at the body language of your audience, which can tell you a lot about them. A roomful of slumping people may be a sign that the group is not engaged and you may want to go with the short version of your presentation.