Who am I talking to?

Before you speak, it is always worth working out who the talk is aimed at. This may impact on a whole range of factors:

  • assumed knowledge
  • conceptual level
  • vocabulary
  • style

For example, suppose the purpose of the talk is to describe the benefits of a new IT product to the national health service, then:

  • if you are an accountant, I should be trying to show you how it can save money; it will be acceptable to use language like cost-benefit analysis, depreciation, and less likely to be impressed by improved patient care, which sounds expensive.
  • if you are a clinician, I should be trying to show you how it can improve care for your patients, emphasising health benefits and outcomes, and trying not reinforcing prejudices that IT is generally more about saving money than helping patients
  • if you are a technology junkie, then I should trying to show you how many megabytes, teraflops and super-dooper widgets it has. Frankly, you will take it as read that IT is a good thing and that naturally the cleverer the technology, the greater the benefit to the NHS and mankind in general.

So what should you do?

  • Try to find out the nature of your listeners
  • If you don’t know your listeners well, don’t assume too much.
  • If you have a diverse group of listeners, think about using pre-reading or handouts to address the needs of different listeners.
  • If you get it wrong, apologise!

Think about the last time you gave a talk.

  • Who was the talk aimed at?
  • Is that who actually turned up to listen?
  • Was the audience homogeneous?
  • If not, did different listeners have different needs?
  • How did you address different needs in the audience?