Your Next BIG Speech
The next audience I’d like to help you with is the policymakers. Or is it parents? It’s the people who are marginally informed about your material. They have some interest in what you are doing, but they are mostly curious about how it could help them do what they need to do. This could be something like setting drinking water standards if they are a regulator, or setting an age appropriate bedtime if they are a parent. Policymakers come to you because you are an “expert” and can provide the details they need to make good decisions.
The main group that falls under the policymaker category for me is politicians. Say what you will about these individuals, but they are vital to my job’s success. Setting laws, providing budgets, issuing mandates, etc. They dictate a lot of what I do as a federal scientist. Therefore, it is very important for me to continue to update and inform them of findings from my research. How I relay my information must be very specific and quite different than talking with the general public.
Policymakers are not dumb. They have advanced degrees in law, civics, history, communications, criminology, etc. However, most do not have degrees in science. Although they are smart and well-educated, they do not know what I know. That’s an important distinction when trying to refine a message for this audience. It doesn’t necessarily mean “dumbing down” the content. It means explaining it in terms someone not familiar with the topic and the jargon can understand. It reminds me of how I felt in my very first geology class. Not everyone has a PhD in geophysics. As a presenter, you need to remember your passion and life’s work isn’t the same as the policymakers’. Just because it is important to you does not mean it is that important to others, as well. That is why a policymaker audience is all about persuasion. Selling your subject and making it important to others who may not be “in the know.”
Liquid Hot Magma
My brother Tim has an MBA in marketing. He is an executive at a big marketing firm in Chicago that handles wealthy clients like Allstate and McDonald’s. He is bright, hardworking, and well-educated. As kids, I used to get mistaken for him because we look a lot alike. Regardless of our appearance, we were not alike. I grew up interested in the great outdoors, while Tim liked playing sports. Even though we both were Eagle Scouts (actually, all three brothers were!), the camping part of Scouting made a greater impression on me than my brothers. In college, I studied geology, geography, outdoor education, physics, and astronomy, and Tim studied business. I eventually went on to get a Master’s degree in geology and Tim has that MBA in marketing. So on paper, Tim and I have equivalent levels of education, just in very different fields.
A few of years ago my brother’s family came out to Portland, Oregon, to visit. It was their first time to the Pacific Northwest. One day we decided to travel up to Mount St. Helens and check out that fairly famous volcano. It blew its top in an eruption in 1980 and is an impressive sight for folks like myself. As we were hiking around the crater, I went into full interpreter mode. I started dropping knowledge faster than a kid rips through presents at Christmas. Yes, I was excited. Here was my chance to impress my big brother. Show him a little bit of what I do. A few minutes in, I began describing how the magma plume rose up inside the mountain. He stopped me.
Wait? What? The dude has an MBA. He has years of practical experience. He has two kids. We were raised in the same house. He has just as much education as me. Yet, he had never once heard the word “magma”. I calmly explained, “It’s what you call lava inside the volcano before it erupts.”
“Oh, ok” he replied, unaware of my shock.
Hmmm…new lesson learned. Never avoid describing something just because you’ve taken it for granted. Not everyone else has the same interests, experiences, and knowledge as you. Once again, know your audience before you start talking, before you start planning your talk. This will help you better package your content in a way that provides the biggest bag for your buck. You want them informed and entertained with your presentation. Treat all audiences differently, especially those considered “general public” versus those “policymakers” you may meet.
Next week we discuss “peers.” Those who are like you, only better.
Policymakers view you as an “expert”
Parenting & Public Speaking. Together
The behaviors, experiences, and techniques parents use everyday can improve YOUR NEXT BIG SPEECH. Whether it be using silly voices or just playing with the kids, these actions improve self-confidence, stage presence, and audience engagement. And that’s just the beginning…