The speech you gave isn't necessarily the speech the audience heard. While you may not give many public addresses, the communication factor holds true in any speaking situation. So if you've ever wondered why your 'audience' -- whether one-on-one, in a small group meeting, or to hundreds or thousands -- just didn't seem to "get it," maybe what we said and how we said it wasn't specific enough for our variety of listeners. Let's think about the potential diversity of our audience members and see how we can differently address them so they hear what we're trying to say. Let's also use the subject of "ice cream" to show how we might take a varied approach.
If you have Men in your audience...provide "just the facts, ma'am."
In the course of any given day, women use two to three times the amount of words that men do. It is the nature of our everyday language, communication process, and lifelong relationship-building structure. We often feel compelled to relate the whole story, every precious, minute detail, when much of the time just the facts would be enough to convey our point to the male listener. It's not curt, rude, or snide; it's just how our brains are wired. Accept that men and women think and speak differently, and reach out to connect the differences.
Complicated story: "Remember when your brother told me that story about your family vacation to the beach when you were six and you got really, really sunburned, and the only thing that would console you was a big scoop of your favorite flavor of ice cream? And you guys got into a fight over the best flavor, and your parents argued about how expensive the cones cost, but in the end at least you got your ice cream. You think we should buy some now? Should we get the old favorites or trying something new? Should we....?"
Direct / non-story: "Pints of our favorite brand of ice cream are on sale for $4, so let's each pick one to buy; would you like chocolate fudge or salted caramel coffee?"
If you have Auditory listeners (about 40% of people)...give the details but DYA.
We've all done it: used jargon, technical terms, obscure references, or industry speak when a simpler word, phrase, or description would've sufficed. So DYA: Define Your Acronyms. While Auditory listeners may need to hear a mix of this type of language to be comfortable in their trust of you as a subject matter expert, that doesn't mean your entire address should be a shopping list of ingredients. Auditory listeners will hang on every word, and every word must still be clearly defined and digestible. Speaking with clarity isn't just about the sound of your voice -- high or low volume, elevated pitch, pleasing tone, etc. -- it's also about your word choices.
Unclear: "Ice cream contains as butterfat for destabilization, triglycerides, lactose crystallization, caseins, whey proteins, minerals, ash content, proteins & emulsification properties, citrate & phosphate ions, fat coalescence (sodium citrate, disodium phosphate), dextrose equivalents (DE), stabilizers (locust bean/guar/xanthan gum, carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), sodium alginate, and/or carrageenan), & emulsifiers.
Clear: "The basic ingredients of ice cream are milk, sugar, cream, salt, and flavoring."
If you have Visual listeners (about 40% of people)...paint the right picture.
Language is a rich communications device. It can be direct, clear, and colorful all at the same time. It's key to know that even though we speak in words, we think and imagine in pictures. So use the visual idea to provide a takeaway particularly for your visual listeners, but be sure to paint the right picture. Not all "pictures" hold the same meaning for everyone; we want to create the right ideas for our audience.
Maybe too bright: "That would be like the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae." Well, to anyone allergic to cherries, or worse, who associates sundae/maraschino cherries as cancer-causing, this isn't a great picture!
Colorful enough: "This would be like your favorite ice cream sundae topping -- cherries, nuts, whipped cream, caramel or fudge, it doesn't matter -- this puts the finishing touch on a tasty treat."
If you have Kinesthetic listeners (about 20% of people)...remember the head hears, but the heart acts.
Stories are useful to truly "get the point across," particularly if we're speaking about a passionate subject matter and/or trying to persuade our audience to make a certain emotional choice.
Factual: "The U.S. enjoys an average of 48 pints of ice cream per person, per year, more than any other country."
Emotional: "My Dad eats rice with everything! Everything except his ice cream, that is. Hmmm, eating ice cream, the smell of brewing coffee, the sound of sizzling steak...why is it that yummy, comforting foods & drinks remind me of Dad and happy family memories?! What ties your family together?"
For all types of listeners...ask for what you need -- really.
Sometimes, we just have to S-P-E-L-L I-T O-U-T. In the course of conversation, business practices, and even personal relationships, it's easy to start assuming that the other person(s) knows what we're thinking, or can "properly" infer what we mean from hints or innuendos. We must remember that no one is a mind reader; even if we think we're being specific, we've go to check-in and confirm. Otherwise, we'll settle for what someone else decides to do, say, or give, but not for what we need, want, or deserve. This week, go ahead and try it: be specific about your request or requirement. Ask for it, make sure the other person(s) hears you exactly, and get what you need.
Non-specific / passive: "Um, so maybe ice cream sounds good to eat sometime."
Specific: "I want ice cream for dessert tonight. Let's go to our favorite shop right after dinner for a great treat."
No doubt your own private conversations, meetings, negotiations, blog posts, public addresses, and the like will host a variety of hearers, readers, and listeners. Reaching out to a diverse audience takes study and practice. But it's worth learning the art and science of direct, clear, colorful, emotional, and specific, effective communication. It's worth it for you and your audiences. Your voice matters. Let it be heard.
Copyright © 2012. Maira T. Pineda. All Rights Reserved.