How to Engage the Diverse Audience

In a rapidly globalizing world the likelihood of anyone doing business or interacting with someone of another culture or other diverse background becomes greater every day. This means that the importance of being able to write or speak to diverse audiences is a valuable and necessary skill in the modern world. This can easily be achieved if one just tries to follow a few simple rules.

The first rule for addressing a diverse audience also happens to be the golden rule. One can simply account for most diverse audience situations if they think before saying anything that could be deemed to be presumptuous about a person’s gender, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, race, disability status, or even age. Though this should not seem too difficult there are a couple of tips for keeping yourself consciously aware of the kind of language you use when presenting yourself. Simma Lieberman says that in today’s world people have to be more PC, which she defines as “positively conscious” or, in other words, being actively aware of one’s audience. The only effort needed to be PC, the way Lieberman defines it, is just by doing a little bit of research on who your audience will be and where they may be coming from. A short list of Lieberman’s top ten tips for being “Positively Conscious” can be found here.

Lieberman, along with many others who have written on this subject, give much of the same advice when gauging an audience. One major point is the need to make your audience feel as if they are being included in what you are talking about. Steven and Suzan Beebe, in their “Public Speaking Handbook,” say that inclusion on all fronts is key. Many times one blithe comment about sexual orientation, gender, or any other identity could severely alienate those people as well as their friends, families and colleagues.

Another important issue to consider is whether or not you will be speaking to, what the Beebes call, high-context or low-context cultures. These terms refer to the use of nonverbal messages and include subtle body language, tone, and even facial expressions. The Beebes state that high-context cultures put much more emphasis on these qualities in speech than low-context cultures. Arab culture, for example, is considered a high context culture. In another words, Arabs may tend to like a speaker who focuses on “delivery and the communication environment, “and may dislike“a speaker who boasts about his or her accomplishments” (pg. 88).

Remember that in instances where you may be speaking to a diverse audience you may also be speaking to a group of diverse listeners (Beebe, page 92). This means, although you want to include everyone in your language, you must also be sure to know who your target audience is and what you are going to do as you utilize this language. This can be done through numerous strategies, some of which include using common audience perspectives and visual materials that transcend language differences. For more detailed information about reaching diverse audiences, as well as public speaking more generally, refer to the “Public Speaking Handbook,” which can be found here.

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