When Learning Becomes Loathing


What you want to give them is not always what they want.

I was sitting in on a conference call the other day between me, the client, and the bureau who brought us together. It was a normal pre-event call, where I was gathering information on what they need and how I could best fit their group as a funny motivational speaker.

The client had one major request – that I not, under absolutely any condition, break them down into small groups. “They hate it,” she said. “That was the biggest complaint from last year’s speaker.”

I was not surprised. I hate being gathered into small groups. The client said she hates it too. The bureau piped in and said she can’t stand it either. We all agreed we loathed being broken into small groups.

And all I could remember was the twenty-five speakers I’ve heard, this year alone, adamantly proclaim that audiences learn by doing – that just talking to them is not enough, you have to get them to work through it together for the real learning to take place.

While this may be true, and probably is true for many audiences, if your audience hates it, and your client hates it, you have a problem.  Your goal as a speaker is not to do what you want, it’s to give your audience what they want. And if you don’t do what they want, then you’re not selling to the right audience. Find the audience who loves to be broken into small groups.

Please don’t hear me say that small groups are bad. I have never been a fan of only one way to do this business. I believe that every speaker has his/her own way of getting their message across. It’s only bad if it doesn’t work. And sometimes your way is not your audience’s way.

So how do we know?

Ask your audience on evaluations. Ask your meeting planner. Ask your client on the pre-event questionnaire. If you’re lucky, you’ll find out in advance how to adjust your speech to meet the needs of the audience. Or maybe you figure it out there, and have time to fix it. And sometimes you don’t know until it’s over and you get the reviews back – or worse, you never find out that everybody complained about you. In your sales calls, be up front about your style and method of delivery. I’d rather lose the sale, than be in front of the wrong group that complains about me after I’m gone.

As speakers, you all have a valuable message to give to the world. And whatever way you choose to give it is okay. As long as it gets you booked.  There is no one right way to do this. So it’s not about finding the right way to deliver your message, but finding the right audience for your teaching style.

What you want to give them, is not always what they want.



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Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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