Targeted Communication: Knowing Your Audience
Public speakers and youth communicators tend to ask many questions like:
“Am I prepared for this message?”
“Did I study enough?”
“Will I do well?’’
All of these are excellent questions when you are getting ready to teach or preach. I believe, though, the best question to ask is an uncomplicated one:
“Who is my audience?”
This question will be a game changer. Remember that you are the messenger and aren’t talking into an empty room. You have a group of people (your audience) who have gathered together for various reasons, and they are present at some level listening and watching you.
As a communicator, your hope is to engage them with the message. There are a couple of steps to consider as you look over the audience.
1. Begin by identifying the ‘who’ question— “who is present in the audience?”
What ages are present? What types of people are in attendance? Where do they come from and what is their background? Let’s imagine you are speaking to middle school. Here are some questions to consider.
“What schools do they attend? Private… Christian… Home school? What kinds of students are represented? Are they religious? Un-churched? Do you know them well? Is this an outside audience that you are unfamiliar with? Is this the first and only time you will speak to them or will you do several talks? Or do you see the same audience weekly? Does your audience care who you are as the communicator?”
2. Second, ask the ‘what’ question.
Look around at your surroundings. What attitude or mindset or emotion do they bring into the venue? Chances are you will have all of these “types” in one room setting listening to your words.
– Knowledgeable about your subject
– Clueless to your topic
– Stressed out
– Not wanting to be there/wanting to leave (us communicators too sometimes!)
– Made to attend by parents
– Only there for friends or food
When you read and re-read the list, it is pretty daunting to think about what these students bring with them. Can you see how being a communicator is difficult and complex when we have at least these seventeen kinds of people present in one setting? –And trust me there are more represented
3. Once you scan the audience, ask the ‘where’ question— “where does that take the communicator?”
The answer is simple yet subtle: Find ways to build trust. Sometimes it’s being honest and vulnerable. Maybe it’s a funny joke or a vulnerable personal story. Your goal is to win over your audience. Young Life folks call it “earning the right to be heard” and if you are trying to get kids to listen, you are going to have to find ways to speak their language. Students love two elements of speaking: humor and transparency. The audience is checking you out as the speaker as much as you are trying to figure out how best to unlock the key to their soul.
4. Discover the answer to the question, “where” can I help these students?
It might seem overwhelming to win over everyone, but that is not your goal. Chances are you won’t– someone in the crowd isn’t paying attention or had a bad day at school or is fatigued. Duffy Robbins and Doug Fields comment, “Whatever those students perceive as their needs-that’s the reality with which you must begin the communication process. If you knock on that door, you’ll usually be allowed inside.” (Speaking to Teenagers, Zondervan 2007).
Your job is to teach and preach and communicate in a way that connects with students, and if you get that right, the rest is a cake walk. Calvin Miller writes, “The more you know about your audience, the greater are your chances of achieving your persuasive goals. Over and over during the research and preparation phases of your speech you should ask the question, ‘Who is my audience?’’
(The Empowered Communicator)
Know your audience. It will be a game changer for you, and for those you speak to.