Serve Your Audience, Not Yourself

This article appeared in the November 2021 Issue of UN Today

By Laura Penn, Ph.D.

In the seven decades since its creation, the United Nations has been in service to humanity, working on the frontline of conflict resolution, peacekeeping, and a wide variety of other pursuits which help to improve people’s lives around the world. My invitation to you as a community is to expand the reach of your service to include how you speak in public. Why? Because to be a great speaker is to be in service to your audience. 

Let me explain…

 A central tenet of Leadership Speaking is that “it’s not about you, it’s about your audience”.  This powerful principle is the foundation beneath every tip and technique in the Leadership Speaking Toolbox.  Deconstructed, it means that your highest purpose as a speaker is to serve the audience what is relevant and interesting to them and what best supports their needs.  Your service to your audience is expressed in everything you do, from how you script and prepare your talk, to how you interact and engage with your audience while you speak.  The more that you do to amplify your service to your audience, the more you connect with them; the more you connect with them, the more your message stays in their hearts and minds.

To help you to understand this more clearly, consider how you prepare and deliver your average presentation. Ask yourself these YES or NO questions:

“When preparing and delivering a presentation do I…”

YES NO   Have ample time to prepare my content (what I will say) and my delivery (how I will say it)?

YES NO   Spend proportionately less time working on the content and more time working on the delivery?

YES NO   Perform an audience evaluation to determine who my audience is and what their needs and interests are?

YES NO   Tailor the content around my central topic to support what my audience cares about?

YES NO   Include stories and anecdotes in my presentation which are relevant and interesting to my audience?

YES NO   Integrate moments of audience participation where I involve my audience directly?

YES NO   Warm up before I speak to help me appear more relaxed and at ease?

YES NO   Use vocal variety to keep my audience engaged?

YES NO   Use “open” body language when I speak to suggest that I am accessible and ready to engage with my audience?

YES NO   Have awareness about the body language of my audience as they are listening to me?

YES NO   Interact directly with the audience asking them questions and engaging with them?

YES NO   Feel fulfilled after my talk knowing that I gave it my all and did my best to be in service to my audience?

If you answered “YES” to most of the questions, then stop reading this article here.  You are already a Master of Leadership Speaking and you know what it means to be in service to your audience every time you speak.  Well done!  If, on the other hand, you answered “NO” to most of the questions, you have a long way to go to understand the art of being in service to your audience.  Read-on and motivate yourself to do the work that it takes to radically up-skill in this core component of Leadership Speaking.  When you do, you will reap what you sow because what you give to your audiences, you will get back from them, in spades.

How to be of service to your audience

From the questions you just answered, it should be apparent that ‘service’ in Leadership Speaking is embodied in two main areas: The preparation of your content and the execution of your delivery.  Here are more insights which can support you to further elevate your service to your audiences:

Prepare with care

One of my favorite words in the English language is the word “presentation”.  It is a noun, derived from the Latin word “praesentare”, which means to “place before”, as in to place something in front of someone.  With this etymological interpretation, I like to think of a presentation as a “present”, a gift of something of significance given to an audience.  The secret to giving any noteworthy gift is to lovingly prepare it with great intention, care, and attention to detail.

Deliver generously

The sooner you recognize that speaking in front of audiences should not be the “me show”, where you are blind to the needs and interests of your audience and you do nothing to serve or care for them, the better.  Reframe how you think about delivering your talks by thinking of it as the “we show”. In this mindset, you surrender your ego and plug in to that place in yourself which gives with no strings attached.  If it helps, go back to square one and remind yourself why you do what you do in your role at the United Nations.  Dial in to the same vision, motivation, and integrity that inspired you to join this noble community in the first place, then deliver your presentations with this same spirit… generously.

Create a win-win situation

Taken as a whole, by serving your audience, you will create a win-win situation for both of you. The benefits for you are that with every smile, clap, and nod of approval from your audience as they listen to you, you will earn their prized attention, recharge your energy store, and feel good all over.  The advantages for your audience are that they will feel acknowledged, valued, and well cared for and this will help your messages to stay in their hearts and minds.  Overall, your service to them will inspire heartfelt humanity and create a sense of harmony where true connections will be made on many different levels and both you and your audiences will thrive.