When you come from a family the size of ours (23 siblings between my wife and I), you have to choose which events you can reasonably attend. Of the five possible graduations this season, we were able to go to the Mt. Greylock High School graduation of a niece and the master’s graduation of a sister-in-law from California State University in Bakersfield.
While both events were completely different in scope and circumstance, they were both celebrations of academic and life achievement. What really struck me about the two events was the content and delivery of the two commencement speakers. The university speaker spoke about the challenging California budget environment and the cuts in services that will result. The tone was somber and perhaps a little defensive. The high-school speaker was light hearted, spoke to the students about achievements and opportunity and recognized the families for their contributions.
While reflecting later on the flight home, it occurred to me the difference might have been who the speaker in each case considered to be their audience. The university speaker may have thought the audience to be tax payers (which was true) but they were not in the auditorium as such at that moment. The high school speaker believed the audience to be successful students and proud families. That simple difference created a completely different message, tone and event.
Careful thought of your audience and the purpose of their attendance is a critical element for a leader to understand to communicate successfully. Even if a message “should” be told, if the audience is not there to hear it, the after talk will be more about the inappropriateness than the facts of the presentation.
Have you seen good speakers gone bad based on missing the audience? What lessons have you learned?