Know Your Audience

Know Your Audience

The first question to answer when considering any presentation is “Who is the intended audience?” The answer to this question will tell you how the audience is used to communicating. (For example- Do they rely on specialized language? Are they accustomed to particular kinds of visual representations? ) Showing an N2 diagram to an acquisitions team probably won’t enhance- and may actually impede- the communication. The successful presenter will need to speak the language of the audience.

In choosing the wording of the message the presenter should be careful to consider any particular technical language, acronyms and terms of art common to the audience. Saying ERISA (eh-rissa) to an audience of accountants may provide a useful conduit for communication and save time over spelling out the full term, Employee Retirement Income Security Act. But other audiences may be confused or worse, interpret the acronym differently than intended without realizing the mismatch. One humorous example of such an exchange occurs in the movie Analyze This when an FBI agent introduces himself to Billy Crystal, playing a psychiatrist, using the initials OCD after his name. “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?” queries Crystal. “No, Organized Crime Division” answers the agent- two different professions yielding two different understandings of the same acronym.

The same principles apply to choosing the visual representations. Flow charts where time progresses from left to right may resonate with an audience accustomed to reading them while a sequence diagram with time unfolding top to bottom might be confusing.

Successful communication requires meeting the audience where they are. We must understand “who” they are in order to get an accurate read on where that is. Without it we are likely to fail to connect and therefore fail to communicate with them.

Next “What do they want/need to know?”

Other Posts in “The View From Here” Series

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