One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to the message you mean to deliver.

Whether you’re speaking to a few colleagues in a conference room, members of your professional association, or a big audience of strangers in a hotel ballroom, you’ll want to adapt what you say and how you say it.

Talk-tweaking is on my mind as I prepare for a program this week. The Project Management Institute wants some insight about Speaking with Authority. Naturally, I’m just the one to give it to them.

And, I’m looking for ways to make my talk especially relevant and interesting to project managers. The people who plan, implement and track everything from technical initiatives to manufacturing processes…and make sure deliverables are in fact delivered.

I’ve been talking to some of them about what they do and what I can provide that will help them do it better.

First conclusion from my research? I need a project manager! These people have talents I don’t have.

Seriously, a speaker ought to approach every talk this way. Develop an understanding of the audience. And think through how to best serve them.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the demographics? Men, women, or both? Bunch of baby boomers, more millennials, or are you talking to GenXers? All from the same area, or are people coming to this event from around the country—or the world?
  • How many of them are there? In a room of 30 – 50, I do a lot of interaction. There’ll be 200-some people at the PMI event—an audience that size calls for a different kind of talk.
  • What’s their professional profile? For a group like PMI, we know most everyone in the room does the same kind of work.

When you speak to, say, a women’s networking group, you could have everyone from attorneys to retailers to the member who sells Mary Kay. It’s more challenging to hit the spot with a diverse audience.

Even with a corporate audience, they’re in the same field, but may well be at wildly different levels and doing very different jobs. How will you capture everyone’s interest?

  • What are they likely to know about your subject? And what would they want to know?
  • Do they have a point of view about your topic? Do you? And how likely are those points of view to be in synch? Are you coming in with support for what they already believe, or are you about to challenge the way they think?
  • What else is going on in their organization? A wave of layoffs is likely to have left some raw feelings. If they just issued bonuses, people will be in a better mood. A new CEO, rumors of a merger…these are all things you might want to acknowledge. At the very least, you need to be aware of them.
  • What’s going on in their industry? A new competitor, regulatory changes, technological advances can all have an impact on the people you’re speaking to. And depending on your subject, they may figure into your presentation.
  • Can you make an educated guess about their communication style?

Are they likely to be highly analytical people who look for lots of data in a logical sequence? (Accountants, scientists, IT experts are probably in this group.)

Or maybe they’re more direct, cut-to-the-chase types who want you to get to the bottom line—quickly. (CEOs, senior executives, and many business owners.)

You might face an audience of nice, warm folks who want everyone to get along. You know, the ones who say, “I’m a people person.” (Think HR, social work, customer service.)

And you might have a roomful of outgoing, enthusiastic, impulsive people who look to you for high energy, interaction, and fun. (PR professionals, entertainers, and a lot of sales reps are in this group.)

How will you connect with each of these types? Most audiences are not homogenous when it comes to communication style—you may have to hit elements of all of them, to make the kind of impact you want to make.

  • What is their objective? What do they want to get out of your talk? Why will they be in this room listening to you? Shape your content to make sure your audience gets what they came for.
  • And what is your objective? Are you trying to attract new clients? Promote social change? Generate support for a cause or a candidate? Make sure you think this through before you get too far along in planning your talk. The outcome you’re going for will influence what you say and how you say it.

Bottom line: the canned speech recited over and over with the same information and identical laugh lines is falling out of favor. Speakers at every level are expected to engage the individuals in the room. And that means making them your focus.

You may have heard a speaker who was brilliant at personalizing the program. Or, one who missed the mark. Post a comment below and share your experience.