[Quick Public Speaking Tip] Is your audience illiterate? And does it matter?

You must know your audience. As speakers, we must know our audiences.

It’s key to our success – to design our presentations to their needs, their wants, their physical, energetic and mental presence.

audience_illiterateAnd perhaps design for their literacy level.


Well – handouts for a start. There’s no point providing written handouts if your audience is illiterate, is there? So what is your design Plan B for that scenario?

Where else would literacy level matter?

Slides. Of course!

Put words on slides and literacy becomes an issue.

If the audience is illiterate, you will need to read out everything you have written on the slides, won’t you? Otherwise it was a waste of time writing words there, wasn’t it?

Obviously …

But seriously, what about some other, different, aspects of literacy?

What about the fact that your audience can read way faster than you can speak?

If you read out what you have written, they will be way ahead of you visually and then there is that awkward lapse while you are still speaking.

And even if you respect their needs in that department, what about your audience’s ability to read and listen at the same time?

It is extremely difficult for people to take in two different streams of words, one from the slides and one from you.

So perhaps it would seem that you really should care about literacy when you design slides.

So what is the Plan B in this case?

You can stop caring about literacy and it really doesn’t matter if you put a power-packed, insidiously subtle or glaringly obvious graphic there, along with a single word, a short phrase or no text at all, all of which support your content. You have covered all of your bases – all of those three permutations of literacy, haven’t you?

— Text is superfluous, though it can add to your speech and the graphic. So everyone who can’t read it is covered.

— People can certainly look at images and listen at the same time – pretty much from infancy.

— And the only reading they are doing while listening is minimal so you have minimised the distraction factor.

Now … about that Plan B for the handouts ….

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