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Do You Talk AT or Talk TO Your Audience?

In the final prep of any customer meeting or training course, there is the realization of just how much information you feel that you need to communicate to your customers.

And no matter the setting of the training or meeting (conference room, tropical paradise, downtown hotel or mountain getaway), what usually wins out is the decision that it is okay to simply sit your customers in a room and overwhelm them with information.

In other words, you've decided to talk at them.

Over the course of 7 years, I saw this approach consistently demonstrated 95% of the time in my Train-the-Trainer students when I asked them right-out-of-the-gate to show me how they teach.

Again, the thought is that this is the very best way to communicate all of the information to your audience in the limited time that you have with them. Whether or not they track with everything you say, or how much they remember, is usually not the concern. Getting through the information is the goal.

A classic example of talking at for me was sex ed class in college. My teacher was a blonde, blue-eyed southern gal. The beginning of the class sounded something like this:

"Hi ya’ll. This week, we’re gonna talk about seh-xual educayshun.”

She was uncomfortable. We were uncomfortable. And the information was thrown at us...quickly. We were talked at.

The alternative approach would be to deliver the information in such a way that it gives your audience something to reflect upon, think about, process. In other words, you talking to your audience.

Using a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin, I added parentheticals in bold to highlight the distinctions:

"Tell me (talk at me) and I forget, teach me (talk to me) and I remember, involve me (make it engaging, memorable and unexpected) and I learn."

To create more clarity on this at vs. to distinction, here are some other comparisons:

Talking at is a bad sermon.

Talking to is a great sermon (in fact, a great sermon speaks to you, right?).

Talking at is delivering information as a check-it-off-the-list item.

Talking to is expressing passion and sharing knowledge with others.

Talking at says, “My job is to give you this information. I’m not here to learn from you."

Talking to says, “I want to hear and learn from you."

Talking at drains your audience.

Talking to energizes your audience.

Talking at is a task.

Talking to is an art and a craft.

Talking at implies that you’re not very comfortable - perhaps you’d rather be doing something else?

Talking to shows that you care.

Talking at is asking (rhetorically), “Any questions?" then moving on to the next topic. - because you really don't want anyone to ask a question

Talking to is asking your audience a specific question...and waiting for their answer.

Talking at is turning on the fire hose and dousing your audience with (in many cases) too much information. Why?

Talking at is what is easy, so it’s the default mode when you feel you have little time or too much to cover in that time.

Talking to is not as much about getting through the information as it is confirming that your audience has received it...and understands it.

In the end, every touch point with your customer leaves them with an experience of your company.

Talking at your audience delivers the "same-old, same-old" experience. It leaves them thinking, "Well, that was what I expected." In other words, the experience you gave them was nothing special.

Talking to your audience invites them into the conversation. It makes them feel like a true partner and helps them walk away with a fulfilling and memorable experience.

As you prepare for your next customer meeting or training, which approach will you take? Which experience do you want to give?


As Chief EMU Wrangler at The EMU Experience, LLC, Ken helps learning professionals deliver engaging, memorable and unexpected learning experiences. By teaching practical techniques to purposefully increase student engagement, along with methods that incorporate creativity into the design and delivery process, Ken can help you create a learning experience that is engaging, memorable and unexpected. Got questions? Email Ken:

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