How to Speak to an Audience

Armando Vera Carvajal June 29, 2019

Public speaking is an essential skill to master for founders. In your entrepreneurial journey, you will encounter people from all walks of life that could potentially become future investors, business partners, colleagues, customers, and more. How you present yourself makes all the difference — with the potential to turn a one-time encounter into a more meaningful and fruitful relationship.

Finding the right connection to your audience is a challenge given the rich diversity of the United States and our interconnected, globalized economy. Thus, delivering a speech or presentation to an audience of people who speak various languages or have different cultural backgrounds requires special tact on the part of the speaker.

Toastmasters International, a nonprofit devoted to promoting communication and public speaking skills, offers many tips and techniques on how to effectively engage a diverse audience:

  • Enunciate clearly. If possible, try to speak with a neutral accent to better include all audience members.

  • Don’t speak too fast. Remember that the normal pace of speech in one language might become incomprehensible for people relatively new to that language.

  • Be careful with metaphors. Some metaphors that are appropriate in one culture can be offensive to another. Even in reference to sports not popular or practiced in a certain country, or phrases that are comical in one culture yet offensive in another.

  • Know the meanings of words outside your native language. Unless you are absolutely sure of the meaning and pronunciation of a word you are using in a given language, do not use it. In some languages, slight variations of a vowel will completely alter the meaning of a word.

  • Avoid slang, jargon and idiomatic expressions. Diverse audiences may not understand slang from a given country. English phrases such as “that dog don’t hunt” or “cool as a cucumber” might be colorful, but the meaning could be lost on a large part of the audience.

  • Be mindful of body language, eye contact, and personal space. Posture, mannerisms and eye contact speak volumes and what is taken for granted in one culture might be considered offensive in another.

This is good general advice for public speaking in virtually any scenario but for entrepreneurs, they have to go one step further. Entrepreneurs must also master the art of the sales pitch.

A sales pitch or proposal ultimately seeks to persuade. The objective of your presentation is to sell a product, concept, or idea. An effective sales pitch is key to future professional opportunities.

To organize ideas into an effective sales pitch or proposal, follow an “inverted pyramid” approach by providing the most important information (e.g. how much money might be saved, how lives might be improved, etc.) in the first few sentences to the audience.

Support claims with logic and evidence, and end every sales pitch or proposal with a call to action. The supporting material helps reinforce points of agreement when an audience is receptive to your presentation. Careful use of logic and evidence may even win over an otherwise unconvinced audience.

Charts, slides, and other high-quality yet simple visual aids can help clarify sales pitches or proposals. Limit each chart or slide to a single main point. Make sure the visual aids can be seen by every person in the audience.

Last but not least, offer a question-and-answer period following your sales pitch or proposal. This gives an audience the opportunity to further clarify specific points or data that was presented. A productive question-and-answer session can provide you with valuable feedback about the effectiveness of your pitch. Use that feedback to refine future pitches.

1)  “Speaking to Diverse Audiences.” Toastmasters International.