It was that far away look in my students’ eyes that told me something was wrong. I was teaching grade 8-mathematics and trying to show the kids how to solve expressions with exponents. But what I didn’t realize was that they didn’t know how to solve algebraic equations yet, so I might as well have been speaking to them in a foreign language. As a newly minted teacher, back in those days, I hadn’t yet learned that before you start holding forth you’d better find out what the students already know! Otherwise, you risk losing them, and your lesson flops.
In many ways, this same principle applies to business communication. If you want to be an effective communicator – whether it’s a presentation or a written document such as an email message, a letter, or a report – you really do have to know who your audience is and what their needs are.
We’ve probably all experienced opening an email from someone who is anxious for our business only to find the message is totally irrelevant. What’s the first thing you do when this happens? Right! You hit the delete button. No doubt you’re grumbling why this message was sent to you in the first place, since its content clearly doesn’t apply to you. And that’s not a good start for building a business relationship!
The fact is; it’s hard to persuade your audience to respond to your message if you haven’t done your homework. The Plain Language and Action Information Network (PLAIN), which is at the forefront of a movement promoting communication that’s clear and simple, makes the idea of focusing on audiences their first defining principle:
“Written material is in plain language if your audience can:
* Find what they need;
* Understand what they find; and
* Use what they find to meet their needs.”
Or if you think of it in retail terms: the customer truly does come first. As we like to put it at The Language Lab, “It’s not about me, it’s really about you.”
So how do you figure out who your audience is? Do a little homework.
The Language Lab’s Top Tips for Getting to Know Your Audience:
–Talk To Me: A good old-fashioned conversation is frequently the best way to find out what your audience knows, doesn’t know, and wants to know. Whether it’s a casual chat or a formal interview the goal is the same – find out who your audience is, and what their needs are.
–Make Google Your Friend: Do a little research online before you write that proposal or send that email message. If you’re working with a new company, their website may reveal a great deal about their current status and future goals.
–Survey The Crowd: Much like a pollster or a broadcast measurement organization, you may want to send out a survey to your audience. It may be the best option when you have a new client with a complex catalogue of needs, and limited interest in face-to-face or phone meetings.
–Get Social: Sometimes social media (Facebook and Twitter) are a good way to conduct research. Facebook recently introduced Facebook Questions, which some, such as the Think Vitamin blog and Mashable feel can be a useful tool for polling your already existing community.
Getting to know your audience so that you can be an effective communicator isn’t terrifically complicated. It’s more a matter of taking the time to do your due diligence. Of course, sometimes it’s tempting to skip this step. After all, many people find the thought of “research” and “interviewing” a little dry and dusty. But what outcome would you prefer – reaping the rewards because you put in the time? Or watching as their eyes glaze over?
Send us your favorite tips about how to communicate effectively with your audience and we’ll publish them in our next blog post and in our monthly newsletter. (Click here to sign up for The Language Lab newsletter.)