Building Bridges: Your Approach to Your Audience

Your approach to your audience can have a variety of shapes, but in general it will fall into one of three types: concave, convex, or somewhere in-between. The one that works best for you can depend on many factors: your subject matter, your audience, and where you feel most comfortable.

In order to understand these shapes, think of your relationship with the audience like a bridge. You stand on one side of the bridge, and the audience sits on the other side. For your speech to connect, you and your audience will have to meet at some point on that bridge. Where you meet will depend on the shape of your approach.

On one extreme, there is the convex shape (“convex”, as in, "shaped toward the audience"). In this approach, you, the speaker, cross the bridge all the way over to the audience. At the very extreme, convex can mean “in your face.” It is characterized by an extroverted, confident speaker who treats the audience like a bunch of friends s/he's known for a long while; this is speech is just the latest of many great, raucous times they've had together.

On the other extreme is the concave shape (as in, bent away from the audience.) Here, the speaker stays on his/her side of the bridge and gently beckons the audience over. The approach is soft, gentle, slowly bringing the audience into the speaker's world for the first time.

There are lots of analogies we could use: “being convex is like getting your dog in the car, while being concave is more like seducing your cat into a pet carrier so you can get it into the car,” or, “convex is like Tony N Tina's Wedding, while concave is more like Story Hour for 5-year olds at the public library.”

In practice, a good speech will probably meet the audience somewhere in the middle of that bridge. But getting there will involve a combination of convex and concave moments. For example, you may find yourself in a convex moment painting a vivid scene with lots of details and color (like a master of ceremonies), then taking a concave moment to reflect on how you personally relate to that scene. In other words, you cross that bridge aggressively, get their attention, then recede a little and draw them a little closer to you.

As we said in the beginning, how you use these shapes will depend on your subject, your goals, your audience, and your comfort level. At MUSE, we can help you find the approach that works best for you, while also expanding the range of tools you can use to get there. Get in touch with us for a free assessment.