Cater your speech!

Photo Credit: *kosuke via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: *kosuke via Compfight cc


“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” 
― Winston Churchill

I was discussing some things with a friend who is helping me with my business recently.  We got on the conversation of how when you speak to a group of people or an individual you need to cater your speech.  He is a professor at University of Iowa’s Executive MBA program and talks often with corporate executives.  He remarked how we need to speak to them on their level.

Here are few ways you can cater your speech to your audience:

  1. Know your audience

  2. Master the use of English language

  3. Avoid slang and jargon

  4. Watch your mouth!

  5. Tell them a story they understand

Know your Audience

It is important to know who you are speaking to and what their background is.  As a kid growing up I was always annoyed with my mother asking everyone where they are from.  She would occasionally find a common acquaintance.  As an adult I find this a great way to get someone talking and it gives you a quick understanding of their background.

If you speak to a group make sure you do your research and get to know the groups interests.  For instance it can be helpful to know the leaders of the organization and how to pronounce their names.  My brother was in an organization with someone whose first name had an odd pronunciation.  Whenever someone would make the mistake the person would be instantly incensed.

Master the use of the English Language

People listen to what you say AND how you say it.  The words you use will tell someone about your education, as well as how you use them.  I remember diagramming sentences in Ms. Riesner’s freshman English class.  I should have paid more attention instead of goofing off throwing things in class.  There are two areas we should focus in on.

  • Grammar

  • Pronunciation

It has been pointed out to me on many occasions that I drop the g off of “runnin'” instead of running.  Growing up in a small town in Iowa I have picked up a few bad habits.  When we are speaking to professional people we want to pronounce the words correctly.  In a less formal setting this can be acceptable or even quite common.

Avoid the slang and jargon

Having two children I have heard some interesting words or slang come out of their mouths.  I know that our language is changing, even “Selfie” is a word you can find in the dictionary now.  We need to watch our slang we use and be aware of it.  It can sometimes become second nature, you may not know you do it.

Working in the Information Technology industry I understand how each line of work has jargon they use.  People at a company can use so much jargon that if you don’t know it, you might think it is a different language.  My wife and brother and law work for the same company, when they talk shop I ask for a translation.

 Watch your mouth!

I grew up on a farm and worked some construction too.  I have heard some farmers and carpenters use some colorful language.  I even had a coach once who liked to use the “F” word to season his language.  And he used it liberally.  So I have heard my share of cursing and swearing.  Using it though doesn’t make you sound intelligent.  You can send your audience the wrong message by using poor language.

Tell them a story they understand

People love to hear a story.  I know my favorite college professor was Business Law professor who would have us read boring case studies.  Then during our lectures he would bring them alive telling us the back story on how things happened.  I remember a lot of his stories and how he would tell them.  When the story supports the facts you have a home run.

How do you cater your speech?  What suggestions do you have?  Please consider sharing this with your friends.


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