Some Speakers, as well as Some Businesses – May Need an Empathy Intervention

the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

done to no avail; useless: wasted efforts


Two “introductions” to this blog post.

Introduction #1 – If you have read anything in business lately, anything at all, then you know that “design thinking” is the new “approach” for practically every business strategy, every business development.  Design thinking says that everything matters—everything.  But, there is a starting point, and that starting point is empathy for the customer, the “end user.”

(And, by the way, I’m sold!  I’m in the midst of a pretty hefty self-learning period on “Design Thinking”).

Is this the state (at least, the internal state), of your audience?
Is this the state (at least, the internal state), of your audience?

Introduction #2 – “Wasted effort.”  Think about that phrase.  I did, just recently.  I heard a speaker, and it did not take me long to realize – this speaker did not give much consideration to the “feelings, thoughts, attitudes” (or needs, or desires) of the audience members.  In other words, this speaker did not start with empathy.  In fact, I think that empathy for the audience was nowhere on the radar of this speaker.

Years ago, I had a college professor who told our class that if there is an idea in one book, it is worth a little attention.  But if the idea has become noticeably prominent in many books, there’s a pretty good chance we should pay a lot of close attention to this idea.  Well, empathy is showing up in a lot of books and articles these days.

It’s time for us all to pay close attention to “empathy.”  Which means it is time to pay attention to the end user – the customer of our service or product or web site or…  And, for a speaker or presenter, that means empathy for the audience members.

I think an audience arrives to hear a speech/presentation thinking and saying – “OK – I’m giving you the next 45 minutes of my time (or longer).  Make it count!  Give me something I need, something I want. Something I can use.”

I think each audience member is asking these questions, expecting positive responses, of every speaker.

#1 – Will I learn something?  Something new?

#2 – Will I be able to use what I learn in a productive way?  Will this something be valuable and useful to me?

#3 – If not something new, will I at least be reminded, in a way that matters, of something that I already “know,” but have been neglecting?

#4 – Or, if not reminded, will I at least be affirmed that I am following a productive path?  Will I leave with more confidence about what I am doing?

#5 – And, will I have to pinch myself to stay awake?  Will you put your all into this speech/presentation, to keep me awake and engaged?

You could come up with other questions to add.  And, there are other “signs” of a poor speech or presentation – no clear theme, no clear message, no coherence…  the list could go on.

But, missing the audience; caring more about your performance than the needs of your audience – this may be the cardinal sin.  Start with empathy for your audience members!

It all starts with empathy.  Will I prepare, and speak, with my audience members – their needs; their desires – in mind?

If not, you may be in need of a serious empathy intervention.


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