Dear public speaker… you lost me at “hello”

About 1 out of every 7 audience member will experience some kind of disability

As public speakers, we all spend time, energy, and a fair bit of money making sure that our content and slides are visually appealing, professional, readable, and engaging. We carefully choose our words, content, visuals and music to create the best experience for the audience in front of us.

But are we really making it the best experience possible for our audience? How do we know if our audience is receiving the message that we’re putting out?

Have we considered the possibility of disability? What if members of our audience have some kind of disability, preventing them from experiencing our content the way we expect them to?

Beyond the four main types of disabilities, a lot of other conditions — often invisible — will prevent our audience from engaging with us. Sometimes, we exclude a significant part of our audience, because we’re not paying attention to their reality.

For every 100 people in our audience, we can expect that about 1 out of every 7 will experience some kind of disability. It may be that they’re colorblind, or nearsighted. They may be hard of hearing, or sometimes even deaf… Some may have cognitive challenges, such as ADHD or dyslexia… Some may be dealing with bipolar disorders. Others, post-traumatic stress disorders. Some may be on the autism spectrum… Or totally blind!

According to the World Health Organization, 15% of our audience will be missing out on our message

In fact, according to the World Health Organization, we can expect that 15% of our audience will be missing out on our message. Depending on the size of your audience… how many are struggling to understand you, too? And what can we do about that?

With so many disabilities putting our 15% at a disadvantage, and so many barriers preventing people from interacting with our content, there’s actually a lot we can do to become more inclusive public speakers.

Let’s take 3 very common examples… colorblindness, nearsightedness and having trouble hearing well. People with these disabilities will often be at a disadvantage when attending our sessions, browsing our sites, or going through our contents.

People in our audience might be colorblind. It affects 8% of males and 1 out of every 200 females. I, for one, am colorblind, so I speak from experience. The colors we choose may prove hard for people like me to perceive, especially when the quality of the projector is low.

Always make it a habit of emphasizing color contrasts. Don’t go for subtle color combinations if you want everyone to enjoy your content. Never rely on color alone to convey information.

Tip no2 — Describing visuals

Likewise, people in our audience might be visually impaired. Still according to the statistics, it’s over 253 million people worldwide. While the majority of people who have a visual impairment are not blind, blind people could also try to engage with us. More likely, it will be people who have low vision issues, such as cataracts, nearsightedness, amblyopia, glaucoma, or macular degeneration. All of these disabilities will affect how they perceive our carefully-crafted content.

Whenever relevant, make it a habit to describe the visuals you’re referring to on your slides. Referring to your visuals, such as graphs and pie charts with key data points without actually describing the information they contain excludes people in your audience. You carefully chose those visuals because they carry valuable information. Describe them.

Tip no3 — Captioning videos

Finally, people in our audience might be hearing impaired. That’s not unusual either! So common in fact, that 360 million people worldwide have some kind of hearing disability. Though it’s less likely that people who are completely deaf will come hear us speak,some do! One thing for sure, they will still visit our sites. In the context of our presentations, people are likely to struggle with the video or audio content we’re sharing.

Make it a habit to caption your videos and support your audio files with synchronized text transcripts. Video and audio content not supported in text will be missed by those who can’t hear well. It will make a tremendous difference to most people in your audience. They will have an easier time engaging with you.

As public speakers, we work so hard to make sure that our message is received by each and every person in our audience in the way we intend for it to be received. These quick tips are only but a few of the things we can do to better engage with our entire audience.

How many people have you been excluding, because you didn’t know?

Empower your audience, so they can engage with you.

So, the next time you’re updating or creating a new site, working on your slides or marketing, ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Are my colors sufficiently contrasted?
  • Are my visuals also described verbally?
  • Are my videos supported with captions?

If you can answer “yes” to those three questions, you’ll be that much closer to ensuring that your entire audience will stick with you the entire time. You’ll be confident that you won’t lose them at “hello”.

I thank you for your attention. As you look into these simple considerations, I’m sure your audience will thank you, too.

I write about digital inclusion, but there are many other topics I’d rather be writing about! Help me make the web more inclusive so I can finally get to those.