Instead of lauding Russell Peters for the great job he did as host of the recent Juno awards celebrating Canadian music, organizers had to apologize for his comments. Headlines in the news were not what you’d expect. They were about Russell Peters’ “jokes” about the young women in the audience and Mélanie Joly, Canada’s Heritage Minister. Many in the audience felt his jokes were not funny. In fact, they thought they were derogatory towards women. That’s what made headlines! Unfortunately, Russell Peters misjudged his audience, and the head of the Junos had to issue a public apology for Peter’s “off-script” remarks.

This inappropriate incident is a prime example of how effective communication necessitates connecting with your audience — not alienating them. But, you can’t connect with an audience until you understand them. That’s why, as the article “Understanding Audience” points out, audience research is such an important tool for media companies and advertisers. Some companies spend significant amounts of money on audience research. It’s important for them to understand the lifestyles, habits, and attitudes of a potential audience, using a variety of survey tools, such as questionnaires, focus groups, etc.

As a business communicator, you may not be broadcasting to potentially millions of people, or selling physical products. You may not want to direct a major part of your budget towards audience research. But, it shouldn’t stop you from doing your own audience research. And you can kick start that process by asking yourself the following five questions.

  1. What is the audience’s demographic and gender?
  2. What is the audience’s cultural and educational background? 
  3. What level of understanding of the topic you intend to address, does the audience already have?
  4. What does the audience want from you?
  5. What problem does the audience have that you can help solve?

If you can answer these questions, you’ll be able to shape your communications accordingly, and speak to your audience’s specific needs. And you’ll need to vary your research tactics, according to the particular situation. You can also gain insight into most audiences by simply speaking, in advance, to someone from that audience, or to someone, with whom they work. There’s always company websites and other news articles, blogs, and social media.

Once you’ve gained a good understanding of your audience, it’s important to continue the process — by observing they’re response or lack of it, while presenting to them. Knowing how to read your audience and respond appropriately will ensure the connection between you and the audience will continue to grow. Case in point: Jerry Seinfeld’s hit webseries, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. As the blogger, Aaron, points out on the website Wisestamp, when Seinfeld first had the idea for the webseries he couldn’t get companies, like Facebook and Yahoo interested. They didn’t think the audience would have the attention span for what Seinfeld was proposing.

Seinfeld knew better! After an incredibly successful nine seasons of the TV show Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld knew his audience would get a kick out of the concept. He didn’t take no for an answer. Instead, he went to a company that was willing to trust Seinfeld’s firsthand knowledge of that audience. The sponsor, Acura, made the right decision. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has been a success, since 2012. What Seinfeld knew — and blogger Aaron points out — is if you give your audience what they love, you can’t go wrong. But you can’t give them what they love, if you don’t know who they are.

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