When giving any type of pitch, talk, or presentation, although you may be speaking in English just like your audience, you may nonetheless be speaking an entirely different language. You’ve probably been in the audience before while a speaker used jargon that you weren’t familiar with. Maybe they started rattling off data or terms and you noticed yourself feeling more disconnected with each new word.
That’s because you don’t engage people by using jargon; instead, paint a vivid, emotional picture so that the audience can actually connect with the impact of your work. If they can see it, they are more likely to pay attention to and engage with your ideas.
Success generally depends on others taking action as a result of your speech. But if you want the audience to take action, then you need to speak to them in their language. While explaining your ideas in your own language is easy, describing them in a way that your audience will clearly understand takes time and effort. So how, exactly, can you accomplish this without dumbing down your research or your expertise?Identify your audience.
Before you can decide what to say, you need to know whom you are addressing. Your audience can be one person in a corner office, fifteen people in a boardroom, or five hundred people in a ballroom. What is their professional background: are they full-time parents, business executives, or lawyers? Are they all of the same nationality, or are they a diverse group? Having identified your audience, you will know whether they speak the specialized language of your industry or culture and whether they understand your jargon, acronyms, or other specific terms.Clear away the jargon and excess descriptions.
Industry-specific terms and excess descriptions cloud your speech and prevent your audience from grasping the essence of what you want to say. Think of how many terms exist in your industry or even within your company. If you use the word “development,” will your audience know if it’s about real estate, international aid, fund-raising, or software? Turn those terms into simpler, clearer language.Explain what numbers and acronyms mean.
If you use the acronym SME, will your audience know if you are referring to Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises or Subject-Matter Experts? Will your audience be able to process the financial details you present to illustrate your point? If not, you’ll quickly lose their attention. The first time you use each acronym or piece of data, briefly explain what it means.Use quotations and expressions that will resonate.
When we speak in a house of worship, it’s customary to quote religious scripture. When we give a political speech, we often quote political leaders. The audience and context of the speech dictate our use of quotations. The same goes for expressions. Keep that in mind as you choose material to engage your audience.
While it takes practice and intention, once you’ve become fluent in speaking your audience’s language, you’ll see a significant payoff in your results and your impact.
Allison Shapira, CEO and founder Global Public Speaking LLC, and author of Speak with Impact: How to Command the Room and Influence Others
(Harper Collins Leadership, 2018)