Answer before Being Asked

This is something my father told me: “An intelligent person answers before being asked”. I was about 7 when he told me this, so I didn’t get it back then. However, it later made sense and in the context of speeches & pitches it makes perfect sense. It means you anticipate your audience and you’re one step ahead of their reactions. The better you can do this the closer you are to achieving the desired result.

For a second imagine you’re in the audience. What would you ask? What could be unclear, unspecified or interpretable? Write down the few things that come to mind (even if the answers seem obvious to you). It is of course better if you have someone to brainstorm with on this subject: given him/her the speech and encourage them to ask questions. Write down where he/she had trouble understanding and make improvements in those areas, use more accessible example or shorter explanations.

A better way to anticipate reactions from the crowd is to persuade the friend who’s helping you to tell you, in his own words, what he understood from your speech. Now observe the reactions:

  • If he/she is having trouble conveying one of the ideas in your presentation, it means it’s probably not very clear and you should rephrase (preferably in simpler terms).
  • If he/she is totally forgetting one detail you consider crucial, it means you hadn’t emphasized it enough. Try to underline the concept your friend missed in a separate phrase, one that’s short and to the point.
  • If his/her (re)presentation is four times as short as yours was, you should consider trimming some of the less relevant details. Even if you have enough time to speak (30 minutes, let’s say), the attention span of the average person is only 12-15 minutes. So you should put the critical stuff at the beginning and keep it as short as possible.
  • Compare your friend’s presentation with the point you’re trying to convey. Your friend’s words are a good (slightly too optimistic) estimate of what your audience will get and keep out of all the information you’re getting out there.

The secret of a successful presentation is to “answer” questions regarding critical issues before the members of the audience even have the chance of asking themselves. Don’t rush things, but be alert, be concise and be slightly ahead of your listeners. This will keep their attention span longer and it has a good chance of giving them a subtle, but intimate feeling of having their minds read.

How do you anticipate the reactions of your audience? How do you prepare for potential reaction when you’re getting the speech ready ?

Please share your ideas and experiences.

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