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old fashioned speaker

It’s inescapable. You’re not getting any younger! But if you’re a senior leader or expert speaker, perhaps you’re noticing that your audiences are.

And this is leading to a question I‘m hearing more often as an executive speaking coach:

As you get older (and regardless of historic public speaking successes), what should a body do to connect with and be fully relevant to next-generation audiences?

Well here’s some simple advice. Don’t keep doing things as you’ve always done them.

If you’re still relying on old ideas or stories you’ve been trotting out for years to win over younger audiences over, please stop – Unless you’re happy to look out and see a rising number of vacant faces and/or seats!

Just like you likely wouldn’t be seen dead wearing what you thought passed for fashion a generation ago – except to attend a fancy dress party (which is why I paid ‘cash money’ to buy the truly awful 1970s shirt you see above) – since you’d look and feel like a fossil…

…The same is true for your speaking.

Why your great presentation may be a dud for a next generation audience

Stuff that worked for you in bygone days may have long passed its sell-by date! And if so, you need to chuck it and, based on research about what your audience wants and likes now, replace it with fresh materials you ‘know’ they’ll likely love.

And this is especially true for tried and tested but now hackneyed stories you share when on stage – regardless of well they have served you over the years.

A case in point. Here’s a story my mother must have shared a gazillion times with me when I was a kid that I shared quite often in the past, but officially retired by the late 1990s when speaking to how easily we can unwittingly be blind to our effects on others!

It was about how her father used to mortify her and her siblings at their local golf club when she was young – in the days when people might by cajoled into doing party pieces like a song, poem, story or even recitations at a social night.

And while my grandfather would never be the first to volunteer, after his third pint he’d forget that he didn’t have a note in his head and he’d offer to sing a song associated with here he grew up in County Cavan called “Come back Paddy Riley to Ballyjamesduff”

And to make matters worse, he’d try to give it extra oomph and feeling by both closing his eyes and holding on to one ear as he sang (and don’t ask me why the latter used to be a thing many folk singers of old often did). Mind you, I suspect closing his eyes might have saved him seeing the effects he must have had on his poor, suffering audiences!

And as if that wasn’t cringe-worthy enough, ‘Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff’ is not a short song and my grandfather both knew and sang every single verse!

Meanwhile, my mother and her siblings – knowing what was coming – would hightail it out of sight until he had finished to avoid further shame. After all, what kid volunteers to let their parents embarrass them in public?

Now, here’s the thing about that story:

It was perfect for the point I was making and my audiences loved it half a generation ago, because they were still familiar with the notion of party pieces and how easy it was – with or without a few drinks – to embarrass yourself or others if your performance stank…

…But, that hasn’t been true for some time. If you ask anyone under the age of 30 if they’ve ever heard anyone doing a party piece, you’ll hear crickets.

And therein lies a lesson:

One thing you must do when speaking with millennial audiences

Any story you share from the stage today must speak in a personally relatable way to your new/current audiences, to help them find powerful meaning from how they experience what you say. And if they can’t easily connect this to their world, you’re on to a loser.

And if that means you have to find and upgrade your material more often, do it. Relying on old material is never a smart short cut when you need to connect with new audiences.

Think fresh instead. You and your audience will be glad you did!