Friday, April 19, 2019
Disability RightsLGBT RightsMy Life

Speak What You Know or Speak What They What?

Ever since I’ve casually mentioned that I’d love to get back into public speaking, I have received a bit of flack from a group of people that don’t believe that you should speak strictly based on what you know. You need to speak about what people want you to say. In some ways, I agree, but in other ways, I highly disagree. Let me try and explain how I can both agree and disagree with a statement at the same time.

When I mentioned what topics I can discuss in a public setting, I wasn’t looking for people to rush right up and start booking me for speaking engagements. It was merely a casual conversation I was having with the readers of this blog. I was essentially saying, I can talk on a wide and diverse set of topics. That being said, I believe in the “speak what you know” mantra.

For example, I won’t ever become a public speaker on a topic like economics. I don’t know much about economics, so I wouldn’t be qualified, nor would I attempt to be qualified, to speak on this topic. While I’m sure there are groups of people who clamor for a great economic-based speaker, I am not one of them nor do I understand this audience. I can only speak on topics that I know about and those with which I have personal experience.

Within the broad list of topics I mentioned on my previous blog post, I understand that I would have to come up with specific discussion topics and a niche for each. I get I have to sell myself and what I am talking about, because I’ve been in the public speaking arena since I was 10 years old. I know that nobody is going to listen to you if they don’t find the topic worthwhile, engaging, and possibly even relatable. Nobody wants to hear a dry, boring speech that has no value or purpose. I get that. This is where the “Speak What they Want” part comes in.

If I’m speaking at a convention where the topic is child abuse, I’m not going to talk about being transgender. It has no place in the speech unless it directly relates to being abused because I was transgender. People don’t want to hear what you’re saying if it doesn’t relate to the topic that is to be discussed. Still, you can’t speak only what people want. If someone wanted me to talk about how I think child abuse is okay in some households because it really isn’t abuse, it’s corporal punishment, I would turn down the speaking engagement. I’m not so desperate to become a public speaker that I’m willing to talk about any old topic, especially those that I don’t believe are true or viable to my life or perspective.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that when you speak what you know and it relates to the topic on which you’re supposed to speak then you’re going to be speaking what they want. The audience will be receptive to you and your story. You can’t not speak what you know because then you look like you’re unprepared, uneducated and unqualified to truly speak on the topics your public speaking engagements cover.

That being said, this could also apply to blogging. How many guys/girls do you see out there writing a blog on a topic they don’t know anything about? Sure, plenty of bloggers write about what they think will be interesting to their audience. I wouldn’t blog or give a speech if I didn’t think the audience would be receptive to the message. That’s just common sense.

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  1. Interesting!

    Despite myself, I take your point. We train people in public speaking and making presentations and we are constantly – and I mean CONSTANTLY – telling people that making presentations isn’t about saying what you know: it’s about telling people what they need to know in the way they need to hear it.

    That said, of course, when we say that we’re rather assuming that it’s a topic you know all about! 🙂 We’re not advocating just talking about what the audience wants to hear – but rather what they want to hear about, within the realm of what you know.

    After all, they’re not at the presentation to hear you speak (unless you’re Bill Gates or Bill Clinton etc.): they’re there to hear about the topic!

    What we mean by it is that you should think about saying what the audience wants to hear as a way of ***designing and structuring the presentation***

    Which is a very long winded way of saying “both sides of the argument are sort of right!” 🙂


  2. Simon, thanks so much for your response!

    Yes! That’s my point. You talk about what the audience wants to hear within your own realm of expertise. Why else would you be giving a speech/presentation in the first place?

    I’ve found, in the past, that people haven’t selected me to speak for an event unless they wanted to hear what I had to say on a certain topic (either they’ve heard me speak on the topic before or know that’s the topic I’ve spoken on). If you’re public speaking and people know about you, you often have tailor-made your speech/presentation for the intended audience!

  3. @Dominick,

    Right, I agree with this post and that comment. It’s all about the thematically related SUBSTANCE of the speech. I pity those who attempt to become a successful public speaker and cannot understand this integral concept.

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Dominick is a director/filmmaker, activist, writer, advocate, FTM transman from the Midwest who lives in New York. Follow his film career and join his weekly Twitter chat on film and disability by following #FilmDis. He received his BFA in Film Production in 2014.