I’m cold. Really cold.
I’m just back from a trip to Regina, Saskatchewan, where I spoke 5 times in three days. Four of the events were at one church (two Christmas women’s events and two church services) and then the other was at a second church for a women’s outreach. It was a rewarding time, though I don’t like traveling.
But Regina is cold. Very cold. Minus thirty cold. Those who live there are special people.
As I was there, it occurred to me that I had better review my jokes before I get up there. I say something funny about two Canadian institutions: Tim Horton’s and Swiss Chalet. But I didn’t see any Swiss Chalets when I drove around. Turns around there used to be one, but it closed, so the joke was still safe.
So often we assume that those to whom we’re speaking are just like us, but they’re not. When we speak at marriage conferences, we’re often paired with another couple where the man is a real man’s man. He hunts. He fishes. He kills stuff. And his stories about hunting are side-splittingly funny. He tells them so well. And they illustrate some great points in marriage.
But one conference just happened to occur in Montreal. You don’t talk about hunting in Montreal. He realized that after the first night fell flat, and then changed his talk for the next day.
In the same way, we need to be really sensitive about our audiences. Let me give you another example. I think the biggest difference in Canadian and American audiences is that Canadians don’t see it as a plus to sell yourself. We don’t brag about ourselves; we tend to brag about others. Saying good things about yourself sounds odd.
So, when an American is speaking to a Canadian audience, for example, you should use yourself as an anecdote, for sure, but don’t do “I have arrived, or God has blessed me, and He will bless you, too”. That comes off as bragging and that’s a huge no-no. I see American speakers—even million-selling authors—do this all the time up here in Canada and they lose the whole audience. When you tell your own story, you must do it with humility, and with “here’s what God is still teaching me”, rather than “I’m so glad God taught me this. Now you should learn it, too.” Perhaps that sounds like I’m being mean to Americans, and I don’t mean to be, but in general Canadians are much more low-key about sharing our own successes. And it’s important to know this about your audience if you’re going to communicate effectively.
Another big difference: we’re not as dramatic. Twice I have seen American speakers actually get down on the floor and act out a horrible experience from their past, thrashing around down there and everything. Canadians would NEVER do this. (Note: both these speakers were speaking before audiences of thousands, and were headlining large events up here). When we tell our sad or difficult stories, we tell them quietly. We never act them out. It looks fake.
Where we do get loud and boisterous is in our humorous parts of our stories. So it’s not that we’re monotone; it’s just that adding drama to the difficult parts of life is seen as gauche.
Canadians, when we’re with American audiences, need to learn to turn it up a notch. Americans, when you’re with Canadian audiences (and European ones) need to learn to turn it down.
Speaking is a form of communication. You are saying something that you want others to hear. But communication is a two-way street: you put it out there, but your listeners have to take a hold of it. And that means understanding and researching your niche.
Whenever I speak, I ask who is going to be in the audience. Are they married? Single? A blend? What is their ages? Do they work outside the home? Is it multiculural? Are they mostly Christians, or not? You have to know these things, or your talk may go right over their heads. If I find out, for instance, that many in the audience aren’t married, I will always choose at least one anecdote that has nothing to do with marriage or children, and focuses more on one’s workplace or something.
So know your audience. Don’t assume they are just like you. Make sure you communicate in a way that they understand. And then your message is much more likely to get through!