When you attend speaking bootcamps the experts will tell you that in order to be a successful motivational speaker you should select a target audience to zero in on. I agree with that, but this is not what this blog is focused on. It's about being able to make a connection with your audience even if its not your target market.
Back in 2010, I was on a major national speaking tour with my friend and fellow activist Jordan Flaherty of New Orleans. He was the mastermind behind the entire tour and I was honored to be invited to be apart of it. One of the stops on the tour was Bluffton, Ohio, a small town surrounded by cornfields. This was my first time in Ohio and we had never heard of Bluffton. We were scheduled to speak inside the prestigious Yoder Recital Hall at Bluffton University. (pictured above)
Like all of the other 20-plus cities we spoke in, I did not know really what to expect in Bluffton. The audience was filled with mostly White residents, students, staff, politicians, and community organizers. The only Blacks in the audience that night were a few athletes and other students. However, I wasn't nervous because by that time I already had years of experience in speaking to diverse audiences. I did a little Googling about school and asked a few questions of the organizers prior to the start of the event. Throughout the tour my message was centered around the case of The Jena Six, racism in America, and the principles of organizing. You know what I did? Stuck to my message.
One of the interesting questions posed to me was by one of the Black athletes when he asked “Why does it seem like the government targets Black males?" I am sure you know that question raised a few eyebrows. And my response probably did also yet we were well received by everyone. We made many new friends in Bluffton and I actually received an email from one of the White female students who told me I gave her a deeper understanding of racism in America.
If you regularly speak in the same spots, it's beneficial to step outside of your comfort zone and stand before audiences you would normally shy away from. It can be tempting to speak over and over to the same crowd because you know you will get an easy applaud, but how about challenging yourself to step outside the box. I've spoken at schools, drug rehab centers, universities, street rallies, churches, community centers, masjids, and more. Don't limit yourself and don't be scurred! (translation: scared)
(You're welcome to follow Brother Jesse Muhammad on Twitter @Brother Jesse)