You May Have to Adopt a Different “Persona” Each Time You Speak

the aspect of someone’s character that is presented to or perceived by others.


A number of years ago, I heard a preacher from Atlanta. He was African American, gifted, a brilliant communicator…. He preached his entire adult life, but also served as a state court judge, serving in City Court in Atlanta.

The first time I heard him preach, it was at a gathering of predominantly white church leaders. It was a fine, very good, significant presentation.

So, when I saw that he was coming to preach at an African American church in Lost Angeles (where I lived at the time), I could not wait to hear him. His sermon was every bit as fine and as substantive as that earlier time I heard him. But, this time, it was as though a different man was speaking. If you will allow me the vocabulary, the first time, he was more academic, and the second time he was more dynamic, poetic Black Pastor.

I think he adapted his “persona” to his audience.

This was not some kind of failure of integrity – he believed the same, and presented the same content to both audiences. But the delivery was so noticeably different.

I think, what he did, was to speak with two different “personas,” based on the audiences he faced.

Recently, I heard a wonderful speaker – one I’ve heard, and appreciated before. But this speaker had a difficult time at a different gathering, with a much different audience. The problem: the second audience needed the speaker to approach in a different persona. And because the speaker’s persona was the same each time, this particular presentation did not “click.”

Every speaker (at least, I think every speaker) has had the sense of “I’m not connecting here” a time or two. I know I’ve had that experience. It is painful!

As speakers, I think we need to think carefully about the audiences we face. If we misread the audience, and approach with the “wrong” persona, then we can fail to connect.

There are a number of personas to adopt, including:

  • a cheerleader persona
  • a fellow traveler persona
  • an instructor/professor persona – just giving important information
  • a briefing personathis is what is happening
  • a motivator persona – reminding the people what matters, motivating them to get the job done
  • a prophetic persona – this is where you tell the audience they are off base, and it is time for a correction (warning – historically, though essential, prophets have not been very well received)

There are all sorts of subtle ways that a presentation can miss its target. And when you misread your audience, you can come across as tentative, unsure, and then you will definitely fail to connect.

So, think about the audience, and the best persona to adopt for this audience. It could be one of the most important aspects of successful speaking.


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