I don’t care who your audience is, or what setting you find yourself in, the following exercise is extremely helpful in the process of grasping the importance of each word you speak. There is a value to the time of your audience, whether you are in the board room, a conference stage, a local Rotary club meeting or a church congregation. Each of these settings affords the speaker an opportunity to assess the relative value of his audience’s time with a few simple calculations.
Here’s the formula for you: I / 52 / 40 / 60 * S *T = V
The value of your audience’s time can be estimated by determining:
I = Average Income of your audience
You don’t know what each of your hearers makes each year, but it’s normally not too difficult to estimate this number. If you are speaking to a group of technology professionals in Austin, Texas, you might be able to safely assume that the average income is $125,000. If your audience is a group of executives at an exclusive conference, then you might estimate the annual income at $500,000.00 – a guess works in any case.
For our purposes we are going to say that this number is $100,000.
S = Size of your Audience: Again, if you don’t know the exact number, do your best to estimate – do a quick calculation of the number of seats across the room, the number of rows and the percentage of capacity (this could be 50% or 125% if there is a lot of standing room being taken up). For our purposes, we’ll settle on 100 people.
T = Time No magic here … how much time are you allotted? Here, we’re going to assume 25 minutes.
If you have an audience with a collective value of $2,000 over 25 minutes, are you justified in beginning preparation for your talk the night before your scheduled time?
Now, we have to break down the $100,000 per year income into a value. Start with 52 weeks in the year, and the weekly income is about $1,923.00. Divide $1,923 / 40 (hours in a week), and you’ll get the hourly rate, which is about $48.00 in this case. Finally (you guessed it), divide the $48.00 / 60 (minutes in an hour), and you’ll have the value of someone’s time by the minute, which in this case is $.80. Each of your audience members time is worth eighty cents.
Let’s use that number in our formula to arrive at V = Value (of your audience’s time)
$.80 * 100 (S = # people) = $80.00 (per minute) * 25 (minutes) = $2,000.00
In other words, I / 52 / 40 / 60 * S *T = V means that you should be delivering $2,000 worth of value for your audience. They spent their valuable time to listen to you speak, and this number shouldn’t be lost on you.
Now, answer the following question. If you have an audience with a collective value of $2,000 over 25 minutes, are you justified in beginning preparation for your talk the night before your scheduled time? If anything, your preparation time should probably reflect the amount that you value your time (if your time is worth $100 an hour as well, then you should probably expect that your commitment for the entire engagement (preparation, drive time and time at the event) will be close to 20 hours.
In the end, diligent preparation in public speaking can be fueled by a good valuation of your audience’s time. Does this mean that a talk to a bunch of high school students who don’t earn a penny yet should be “preparation free?” Don’t take the low road! This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but an exercise to inspire you to bring your A game every time – if you don’t understand the true value of your audience’s time, you are likely to under prepare.