Peter F. Drucker once said that “The most important thing in communication is to hear what is not being said.” We have a similar paradox when we’re developing a project or a presentation: the most important person – the audience member, is typically not in the room.
When starting a project it’s easy to not consider the audience. To start, we’re likely in a hurry and are already behind schedule. Then, we’re probably smart enough, have plenty of experience and have done many projects like this before. It’s easy to believe that we know just what to do. Sometimes that may be enough to communicate successfully. But, considering the barriers an audience might have to receiving our message can challenge exactly those preconceived ideas we’re banking on to get the message right.
It’s Communications 101 to remember that communication is a two-way process between sender and receiver. Communication doesn’t happen until the message is received. Understanding the audience perspective can make all the difference in crafting an effective message. Knowing what the audience is willing to receive should shape what message you send and how you send it.
Consider a presentation you’ve made in the past that didn’t go as planned or a project that wasn’t very successful; chances are you learned something during the process that, had you known or considered it earlier, would have changed your approach. That’s a hard way to learn and I know that I’ve had more than one lesson. At the same time I can think of many other successes and I can recount clearly one project where considering the audience was not only effective, it was essential in even continuing the work.
The project was to introduce to a sales force a new line of copiers. Interviews with the sales reps revealed that they were still fuming about the current line which had suffered from a lack of features, a non-competitive price and repair problems. The sales reps were working extraordinarily hard to move these machines. While they were eager for the new equipment, what they also wanted was an apology from Management. This was not on Management’s radar as we started the project. Our interviews with sales reps revealed the true “temperature” of the audience and enabled us to shape the new message in an acceptable way. While Management never apologized, they did acknowledge the problems with the current line and thanked sales reps for their hard work. That was good enough for the audience and they were able to rapidly begin moving the new products.
Having a full understanding of your audience makes a world of difference in your work. This holds true whether you’re creating a presentation to thousands or for a one-on-one budget meeting with your boss.
When you sit around the table to start creating, be sure to leave a seat for someone from your audience.
Article contributed by Jeff Boarini, CMMA Board of Directors