What’s the Problem: Getting Your Audience to Care

This past week I got to work with Miami University for the inaugural RedHawk Talks, a public speaking event where graduate students shared their research in a five-minute TED-style format. You can imagine that it takes a lot of rigor to learn to boil down an entire thesis into a five-minute talk, and the students were up to the challenge.

At the dress rehearsal, one of the students said to me, “I just want the audience to know about this technique. Why do I need to tell them about the problem?”

This speaker had something to share— it was an elegant solution to a problem in data analysis. And she only had five minutes to do it, so she really wanted to get to her idea quickly. Why waste time describing the problem?

In your speech or talk, defining the problem that your idea addresses is far from a waste of time. In fact, if it is not clearly identified, you will have an even bigger problem on your hands: an audience that doesn’t care.

Let’s consider the audience. We should give audiences credit: they are usually kind and want to listen and learn. They come with the intention to be good audience members. So why shouldn’t we, as public speakers, simply skip straight to what we want to share with them? The answer is that your audience needs to use their energy to pay attention.

It takes a lot of energy to really listen, even more to learn, and a huge amount to remember. When you share with an audience, you are asking them to exert energy, and humans are designed to conserve it. Sure, we all have the capacity to rally and get ourselves interested. But the more energy we are asked to exert, the more fatigued we become, until even the kindest audiences struggle to stay focused.

When you put the audience at the center of your presentation you realize that if you give them a reason to care, they will want to exert that energy. The easiest way to get them to care is to show them a problem that needs to be solved. If the audience can see that something that needs to be fixed, they will lean in and be eager to hear your solution.

In the end, I told the student that I knew that she cared about her idea, but that, as a good communicator, it was up to her to let the audience know why THEY should care about it. When she took the stage the next day she looked confidently out at the audience and said “this is a problem that we need to solve.” And the audience nodded in agreement, ready to hear how they should solve it.

This year, I will be focusing on the audience and how you engage with them. How do you put the audience at the center of your communications?

Want to learn directly from Acacia? Join her in Columbus at the April 5 Executive Presentation Style & Delivery workshop. Register now.


Acacia Duncan Executive Communication Coach

Before becoming an ICF Certified coach and joining Articulation in 2016, Acacia Duncan spent 14 years as a corporate coach and trainer in the retail sector. As a coach, she specializes in helping clients discover their authentic voice and unlocking the confidence to achieve their goals. As a facilitator, she has created and led training and development courses for groups of up to fifty. By keeping the room lively and curious, and asking questions before answering them, she creates an environment that fosters adult peer learning.

In addition to coaching and facilitation, Acacia is a professional theatre director and actor. Her years of experience on and off stage have taught her to how bring out the creativity in any individual or team and how to engage an audience.