Established speakers already know a lot about the expected audience because they consult or speak to them regularly. But they may need your help to research new trends in the environment and what this particular audience already knows (their level of expertise with this topic) so that the speaker’s content can be seen as different and fresh. The biggest problem speakers have, particularly when they are new to speaking, is they don’t know who is already speaking and providing information on this topic, so they don’t know how much of their information is new and different. They really don’t know if they are providing what the audience needs or not. In other words, they know the problem at 30 thousand feet, but many speakers don’t drill down to the specifics the audience needs, the real practical “how to” information. The VSA can be a big help in gathering data about those problems and solutions.
Target Audience Research
It is critical for the speaker to know who is most likely to want and benefit from his or her speech and then prepare that speech in a way that’s the most accessible and interesting for the targeted audience.
The more clearly the speaker can understand the target audience and identify their precise needs, the better he or she can prepare a speech and create sales pieces that address those needs.
The VSAs Role in Managing the Process
1. Define exactly what needs to be researched. What does the speaker want to know?
2. Determine whether you need secondary sources of research or the speaker needs to do primary research. Does the information already exist because polls, etc. have been done by industry sources, business research firms or the government or will the speaker need to develop the information?
3. Assuming you need secondary sources (the information is already developed and available), search using the Internet and libraries.
Define the Questions to Research
Again, when you’re looking for characteristics of the intended audience, the speaker would like to know more about their environment in order to understand their needs better. In general, you might be trying to find out:
1. What are the most pressing problems for this particular audience?
2. What are some of the current trends that are creating both opportunities and challenges for this audience?
3. What are the characteristics of their work and/or personal environment? Is it a cut-throat environment? Is it an industry under siege or heavily regulated? Is it very bureaucratic or more entrepreneurial?
4. What is the audience’s emotional mindset? Are they fearful, are they optimistic, are they just burned out? Are they searching for a new job or connections that could lead to more work?
5. You may also be trying to answer these questions about the audience:
- What do they read?
- Where else do they go for information?
- To what groups do they belong?
- On what topics could the speaker blog to start a dialogue with them?
Sources for Research
You will be using books, reports, articles, press releases (called secondary sources because their author didn’t do the research, but just reported on it) that can be traced back to private research groups, government, universities or other organizations like nonprofits who did the primary research and are the source of the information. For instance, if a speaker spoke on fitness, you might be looking for the answers to questions on:
1. What are the pressing challenges audiences are concerned about in their health?
2. What is the conventional wisdom? What does the audience already believe that is different than what they will hear from the speaker?
Primary Research to Use Results in Speeches
Some speakers do primary research to create their own news and information that the audience won’t hear anywhere else. Speakers want to make pronouncements or claims that might surprise the audience or create controversy to lead to further speaking engagements. While not as rigorous as in academic environments, the marketplace and the media use these findings to validate their own agendas and give credit to the speaker. Ex: “A poll taken by Susan Jones, noted speaker and expert, found 4 of 5 foundation recipients would like to know the source of the funding.” They also might want to have statistics that prove their expertise or reach. Ex: “Mr. Jones has addressed over 200,000 people in 20 countries”. The VSA can play a key role in gathering both types of information. The VSA can find the first type via speaker files or verbally by interviewing the speaker. Below are the steps a VSA can take to help a speaker create claims from their current efforts.
1. Gather the information. If the speaker is also a consultant or coach, list their clients. Then gather more detailed information about each client. For example, if your client is also a coach, find out how many people they coached per corporate client. Check out their job titles. Then, look for the majority. For example: were 75% in the executive suite? Top sellers? High potentials? That will form the beginning of the claim. Example, based on interviews of 2,300 top performers….
2. Next, determine the common denominators in outcome or findings. What problem or obstacle did they most have in common? Any common assumption? Ask yourself: what points does the speaker want to make? The answer will be based on the topic they speak on. For example: a leadership speaker is also a coach who has helped 1,500 high potential executives in ten countries. For 1,000 of these clients, decision making when information was unavailable was the most daunting challenge they faced. Again, keep in mind that the speaker may have these findings “in their head.” If so, ask the speaker if you could help draw out that information by interviewing them.
Many speakers will be delighted that you asked and are willing to help them. Below are common questions you can ask:
- What are the top three most common obstacles reported to you?
- What are the most common assumptions made in addressing the above problems?
- And what is your “take” on this situation? How valid are these assumptions or beliefs and what do you recommend instead?
You can use the above format for a variety of scenarios, such as “top three mistakes,” “top three trends with the greatest impact,” etc. Write down the speaker’s answers and prepare a document for to review. Keep it short; most speakers like bullet points.
Search the Internet
You can do a Google search and find virtually every trade association on the web. When you get to the one you want to research, you might be looking for two things: Under the events section, check out past speakers to see what kinds of speakers are popular with this audience. You may find out they hire compelling, inspirational type speakers, specific industry type speakers, sports figures or comedians. For instance, if if they are using comedians, that means they are looking to lighten the event and that’s the kind of thing that it is great for speakers to know. Under the publications section is a good place to find the latest challenges faced by those in the audience. Articles and books are directed at solving the problems faced by many in that industry.
Go to the Library and Bookstore
Publications have their finger on the pulse of the newest trends so they are great for research. Amazon.com is a great place to narrow down the field, but you will probably have to go to a bookstore to see enough of various books, magazines and trade journals. Columbia Books is a reference of all the associations. If you want to get a sense of how many meetings are in a particular industry, such as health care or education, you can read about the associations that have national offices. To be listed, the organization has to have an office, so if they are so small that their office is really a volunteer’s garage, then they’re probably not going to be listed. Columbia Books also has an online service called www.AssociationExecs.com, where people can find associations and get a profile of an association. They also offer a premium service which gives you unlimited downloads into an Excel spreadsheet. The annual cost for this is about $4,000. But the Columbia books referenced above are a lot less expensive and it’s great for research. You can then find them in the reference section of most major libraries.
There is a final type of research the speaker may ask you to do and that is to find out what other speakers are doing – the trends in speaking in the industry. There is a good way to do this research.
1. Check out speakers by topic and rating on http://www.crunchbase.com to find the most popular speakers on the topics your speaker speaks about.
2. If you know the speakers name, then Google by name. Now that many websites have video clips, you can even check out their speaking style.
3. If you want to know who your competition is, then Google by topic, such as customer service speakers. This is far more time consuming, as you will get both new and veteran speakers.
4. Go to speakers bureau sites and look up speakers by topic. If a bureau is representing them, you know they have been on the circuit for a while or in the media. They are already on buyers’ radar or the bureau wouldn’t be working with them
5. Go to association websites, under events or education, and look at who they’ve hired before. Not only gives you your competition but also topics they are most interested.