Knowing Your Audience

Say...what is an audience, anyways?

One of things that many people fail to realize about communication is that it’s not just about you. It’s not just about you getting your message across.

It’s about the other person too. They get a say. They are part of the process.

If you want to communicate well, you have to think about your audience. It doesn’t matter if your audience is 1 person or 1000 people. What’s important is thinking about who it is you are communicating with. There’s a big difference in communication with someone and communicating to them.

“Communicating to” someone focuses on things like getting your message across to them, saying what you want to say, and prioritizing your own meaning. That’s part of communication, but it’s ego. If you want to communicate well, you can’t be concerned with only your own outcomes.

Communicating isn’t just about you making your point. It’s not only about you shoving your thoughts and point of view into someone else’s head…as if we can do that anyways!

Communication is a shared process. We have to think about the other person, our audience.

Always A Different Audience

We tend to think of audiences as BIG — a crowd listening to a speaker, a professor lecturing to students, someone presenting to their team at work. We also tend to think of audiences as abstract. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. Marketers, advertisers, and political campaign strategists for example, think of audiences as collections of psychographic profiles, groupings of characteristics and or traits, and just enough data exhaust to make them think they know someone. Maybe they do, plenty of marketers and data surgeons are good at their jobs.

I’m not saying an audience isn’t or can’t be these things, but these: A) aren’t the audiences that I’m talking about (necessarily), and B) neglects that fact that your audience can be the person sitting right across from you.

We don’t often think about a single person across from us as an audience. We don’t necessarily consider the small groups of people we communicate with as audiences…but they are.

Audience can be understood and sliced and diced in many different ways.

Every audience, whether that’s one person or 100 people displays it’s own characteristics. Anyone who has attended more than one concert would attest that every audience and every show sort of has its own vibe. Or, if you’ve been on at least two different teams of any kind, surely you’d agree that every team has its own unique feel. That is, in part, because every different collection of people displays its own characteristics.

Every audience is different.

The key question is: How might we use an adjusted idea of audience to form better connections? That’s what it’s all about, right?

What are we talking about when we say “know your audience”?

Principles

Start by seeing your orientation to your audience as a relationship. Every relationship is different, so you have to think about your “audience” — whoever is out there across from you — as unique. Every individual is unique and every collection of individuals is unique as well.

Every audience is going to require something different. This is not just due to demo- or psycho-graphics despite what Marketing might tell you.

So, the question becomes: What basic principles about audiences, if any, can help us communicate better? I’d like to talk about 3 of them:

  1. Tailor What You Say; Personalization.

If you want to communicate well, think about personalization as much as you can. Who is the person across from you and what is relevant to them in that moment? What information do they seek or need? How can you shape what you say to try to reach them?

Good communication meets people’s needs and the only way to do that is to proactively try to give others what they seek. If you’re not meeting their needs, problems are likely to occur, they’ll tune out, or you won’t connect. Communication won’t be as good as it could be.

Good communication takes what the person across from you wants and needs to hear into account. You can’t just mindlessly blabber. (Unless that’s what they’re looking for, of course!). Don’t just recite some spiel. They need to feel like they can trust and rely on you and that what you’re saying to them is genuine and just for them.

Thinking about their needs, what they want to hear, and how they want to hear it maximizes potential outcomes. However, it’s far more important to engage in perspective taking than it is to worry about exact correct wordings. The stuff of good communication is factoring in someone else’s view and their concerns, not worrying if you’ve worded things exactly right.

  1. Where Do You Overlap?

Stop thinking about “getting your message across” and start thinking about overlaps. Where do you and they extend over one another? What do you and they have in common? Where are the meaning-making whitespaces or points of connection? What can or do you talk about with them? Racquetball? Music? Whiskey? Philosophy? Find something! Then find something else.

Find common ground. Anything can do to spark a nice connection. It could be any “thing” such as the examples above or you know important stuff, like your feelings, emotions, and thoughts.

Stories are a great way to relate. Want to connect with someone? Tell a good story in a way that allows someone to be drawn in and hooked on somehow. This is connection. Your story need not be complex or practiced or polished…only genuine. Stories are big and small and everything in between. Use them. When you’re listening, look for places to hook onto the stories of others.

  1. Beware Egocentrism.

Egocentricity is the enemy of knowing your audience. It’s the enemy of taking someone else’s perspective. Try to keep in mind what is influencing your perception of others. Also consider setting aside your own perspective when it might be flawed. This is hard and perhaps the essential core of all human social problems. Our brains tell us our point of view and perceptions are not flawed, but that is just the evolution of ego talking.

Communication is ultimately, nearly always, about change: small changes, big changes. If we’re unable to surrender to the process of change, we must wonder what we’re doing when we communicate. Set aside ego, even if just a little bit. Try to be slightly more self-reflective. When you fall into the trap that communication is about you, and not something shared, problems will arise.


“Knowing your audience” can be hard work bordering upon impossible. Audiences aren’t just amoebic collections of people.

Audiences are far more radical than this. They are the people close to you, the people across from you, that one person — right there in front of you — that you’re trying to connect with.

How can you get through to them? How can you know them? Trying to know your audience shows respect: for them, their time, their needs, their challenges. Much of knowing your audience is about care. This is how you know your audience. Not in whatever superficial way you think you care about them, but from their perspective — the radical respect of perspective taking.