Do you remember a time, as a kid, when you wanted to ask your parents for something—a new toy, a raise in your allowance, a dog? How did you go about it? Did you just come right out and ask, or did you spend time preparing your arguments, collecting your reasoning, and maybe even making a visual presentation? Did you debate with yourself whether to ask your parents together or individually? Who did you ask first?
This classic childhood schtick may seem a little precious, but in reality, the kid who takes the time to really figure out what his parents need to hear in order to give him what he wants is demonstrating the number-one secret to successful communication:
Put Your Audience First
Here at Quantified, we firmly believe that the first step toward successful communication is getting to know your audience. Whether you’re addressing a crowd of 500 customers at an annual conference or asking a colleague for a favor in the break room, making sure you’re message resonates—and getting the response you want—starts with understanding who you’re talking to and what will resonate with them. Then, and only then, you can tailor your message to appeal directly to its recipients.
This includes the obvious things like age, occupation, upbringing, and political views, but it goes deeper than that. Knowing your audience means understanding how their brains work, how they make decisions, and how they’re likely to respond if you phrase an ask one way versus another.
The idea of audience-centric communication is that, before you even set up that meeting with your boss to ask for a raise, or put pen to paper to write a speech, you think through your audience’s psychology and consider the best way to present your message in order to get the results you want.
Some of that audience consideration digs into traditional persuasive theory: appeals to the head, gut, and heart.
You can read more about persuasive theory here, but to sum it up, speakers can appeal to the audience’s head (logic) through data, stats, and cold, hard facts; we can appeal to an audience’s gut (intuition) by building our own credibility; and we can tug their heartstrings by leaning on emotion. The best persuasive speakers know how to combine the three types of appeals in just the right way to move every audience.
So how do you crack the combination? Think about who you’re talking to.
If you’re dealing with an expert audience that knows you, knows you and your business inside and out—investors, for example—lean on logic. These folks are highly informed, and they’ll need concrete details in order to be convinced.
If your audience is new to your you and your business, focus on building credibility by citing your own experience and accomplishments as well as research and data from third-party sources they already trust. Your job, in this case, is to show your audience why they should listen to what you have to say.
And, finally, emotional appeals. These are great for revving up audiences who are already on board with what you’re trying to accomplish—turning supporters into evangelists. But emotional appeals are a great way to forge connections with any audience, so while you don’t want to get too maudlin on your expert audiences, don’t hesitate to throw in some heart.
But persuasive theory won’t take you across the finish line.
While these research-based rules of thumb will certainly get you started, you can’t rely entirely on textbook teachings to help you connect with your audience. Whether they’re experts, newcomers, or anywhere in between, you have to consider what makes these particular people tick.
The same way you might have approached Mom differently than you did Dad, you’ll talk to your midwestern clients differently than your east coast clients, and you’ll talk to your youngest employees differently than your senior staff. This isn’t to say your message will change, but your cultural references should, your political content should, and even some of the vocabulary you use should probably change. That’s because every audience brings different values, concerns, and backgrounds to the table, and the more we can personalize our communication to resonate with those values, concerns, and backgrounds, the easier it will be to connect with—and persuade—individual audiences.
So next time you’re getting ready to deliver an important message, before you even think about making an ask, get to know your audience. If you can tailor your delivery to their needs, you have a much higher chance of success.