Four Communication Expectations — Never Violate These

Customer service is critical.  And rule #1 is this:  never violate your customer’s expectations.  You can surpass them – do better than expected.  That is a good thing.   But never violate them!  That is a bad thing.  You can count on this:  when you violate your customer’s expectations , your customer will not be happy.

For a speaker/presenter, your customers are the people in your audience.  And when they show up, they have some very definite expectations.  If you meet them, or surpass them, they will be happy,  But if you fail to meet them, they will be unhappy.  And if you violate them, you’ve really crossed the line.

And you know how customers are – they never forget.

What follows does not replace the basics:  prepare well, and speak well.  (You might want to read or re-read this blog post: 2 Ways to Guarantee a Failed Presentation).  But these will add to your understanding and arsenal, and give you a few more hints on your road to success as a speaker/presenter.

Let’s call these the communication expectations.

Expectation #1:  The understandability expectation.

All communication starts here.  Can your audience understand your words?  Do you pronounce them clearly, and do you speak them loudly enough to be heard easily?   Whatever else you do, if your words are not heard and understood, you have absolutely violated your audience’s expectations.

This expectation has two parts:  the “volume” expectation and the “enunciation/pronunciation” expectation.  Are you loud enough?  Do you pronounce each word clearly enough?  Get these two right, and the audience will be much happier.

Expectation #2:  The time expectation.


I call this the first question any speaker should ask.

“How long do you want me to speak?”

It has a follow-up question:  just before you begin, ask the person in charge,

“when do you want me to finish?”

And here is the answer.  If you are asked to speak 30 minutes, speak 29 ½ minutes – just under the requested time.  Your audience will love you.  If you speak 15 minutes for a 30 minute assignment, your audience feels cheated.  If you speak speak 32 minutes, your audience begins to get just a little antsy.  And if you speak 45 minutes, you have definitely violated their expectations, and you’d best look for a side door to slip out of.

Now, of course, there is nothing right or wrong about a 30 vs. a 45 minute presentation.  What matters is the expectations of the audience and the event organizers.  So – never violate the time expectation.

Expectation #3:  The respect expectation.


Every audience needs to be respected.  And they need to feel respected.  Disrespect your audience, and you definitely violate your audience’s expectations.

This has many elements;  prepare well (an uprepared speaker is definitely disrespectful of the audience), connect with your audience in ways that matters to the specific audience.  The list is endless, and the only real test is the “after” test – did your audience feel like you respected them?

But here are two aspects to always keep in mind:  the “word choice” expectation and the “appearance” expectation.

Regarding “word choice,” never use offensive language.  Ever.  Watch your words, watch your jokes…  And be on guard against any offense regarding any issue that rightly offends people such as gender issues or racial issues.  Never be inappropriate — always be respectful.

Regarding appearance, always dress a little “up.”  Yes, if your name is Steve Jobs, you can wear jeans and a t-shirt.  And this is a very casual age.  But it is always easier to take a tie off than wish you had one on.  (My apology – I do not know the equivalent illustration for female attire).  But here is the principle:  to deliver a presentation, dress like you respected your audience enough to look presentable.

Expectation #4:  The energy/passion expectation.

Are you excited about your material and this opportunity to share it?  Then act like it; come across like you are excited.  Ok, maybe “excited” is not the best word.  But avoid lifeless delivery.  Be sure you are described as interesting, engaging, passionate about your subject.

The speaker has to keep the energy level high in a room.  Sometimes, (maybe after a “boring” business meeting or lifeless introduction) the speaker has to raise the energy level of a room.  But the speaker should never, ever lower the energy level of a room.  Your audience expects you to have energy and passion.  So, be energetic, be passionate.  And…  never be boring!

If you meet these audience expectations, you have a chance to walk away with a satisfied, happy audience.  And that is a good thing.

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