I walked into the somewhat intimate dean’s boardroom of a globally ranked, double-accredited business school in Africa. I was scheduled to deliver a day-long workshop to executives from Bank Z, a leading bank in the country.
It was my first time stepping into the dean’s boardroom. Whether intentional or not, the choice of the venue (not the regular lecture room) communicated an unspoken premise:
The participants were special, and I should be mindful of how I delivered the programme.
Over four months, some facilitators and I delivered different modules for Bank Z. My day-long communication programme was for the fourth cohort of executives from the organisation. Despite receiving high ratings for the first three cohorts, with my highest score being 4.9/5, I was committed to improving my delivery.
And what I found out from that programme, and from all interactions I’ve had with ambitious professionals, executives, and leaders over the years, is that the first rule of effective communication makes or breaks your impact:
Know your audience.
I’ve stressed it on this blog for over a decade. Communication authors, coaches, trainers, and speakers have also echoed the advice on different platforms.
No doubt you’ve now realised that you can’t influence people to action if you don’t know your audience.
But what does ‘knowing your audience’ entail?
Below are three steps you should take to analyse your audience and serve them so you deliver relevant content that triggers action:
Step #1: Ask specific questions about the audience’s knowledge and expectations
For every programme I facilitate for corporate clients, such as Bank Z, I’m informed about the number of participants and the gender ratio. Other helpful information about the audience members include:
- their years of experience
- their professional cadres
- their knowledge of the topic (or lack thereof)
- their expectations of the programme
- their aspirations after the programme
Whatever the format of your communication — whether it’s a training component, a speech, a pitch, a presentation, or a proposal, don’t begin the preparation until you receive relevant information about the audience. If vague information is given, ask specific questions.
This step is crucial because it compels you to view the audience through their eyes, which enables you to craft content that addresses their needs.
When you figuratively and literally speak the audience’s language, you ensure your content is relevant. And relevant material generates support and spurs action.
For example, the data received from the bank executives before my sessions revealed two interesting findings:
- They had an average knowledge of some aspects of my programme. I also noted their comments on being open to learning new viewpoints to help them lead effectively.
- They expressed a desire to learn practices that will enable them to lead internationally. One female executive wrote that she wanted to know new perspectives that would allow her to lead a more “agile and effective team in line with best global practices”.
These revelations about the audience made me realise that the Harvard research findings on effective leadership being hinged on first establishing warmth before stressing competence would be fascinating to them. So, I included the sharp, powerful conclusions from the research and opened my session with a question to spur engagement. I also played a tribute video about a Nigerian business leader whose warmth led to outstanding results that were remembered over a decade after he retired from the organisation. I stressed that the Harvard findings were still relevant to exemplary organisational leadership in the country.
I also incorporated a discourse on persuasion to address some participants’ desire for knowledge to enable them to lead across borders (should the opportunities arise). Then, I highlighted how the recommended best practices will boost their persuasive powers, increase their influence, and help them lead more intentionally.
They nodded, took notes, asked clarifying questions, and shared their experiences.
Therefore, ask questions to gather as much (useful) information about the audience as possible. The knowledge you glean will help you craft content that will resonate with them and inspire them to adopt new practices.
Ask the event organiser for details if you’re scheduled to deliver a programme to an external audience. For work-related activities, ask an experienced colleague for advice or ask your boss to recommend angles crucial to the audience.
If you can’t access useful information about your audience, ask yourself the foundational question to zero in on what’s critical. Then, ensure you tailor your communication to address the answer, whether for a speaking or writing activity.
Don’t do anything until you complete this first step.
Step #2: Project confidence and passion to elicit the audience’s trust
Your relevant content is one (important) aspect of the overall effectiveness of your delivery.
Now, I knew the participants in my programme would be well-dressed, confident executives who would expect their facilitator to be self-assured and engaging. So, I was determined to share my passion for the topic.
Since my sessions tackled warmth, nonverbal communication, and persuasion, I also realised I needed to ‘act the part’ to be considered believable.
Therefore, my business attire, how I walked into the boardroom, and the varied tones helped to exude confidence. I also applied self-deprecating humour to connect with the executives by warning them that they’d be ‘stuck’ with me for a whole day — which drew smiles and gracious comments reassuring me of their support.
My efforts paid off early. During the first break, one of the executives declared that he knew from the beginning that my session would be different and interesting because of how I walked in and interacted with the audience.
How you show up matters to the audience as it signals that you’re credible and worth their attention.
Whether speaking in front of a group or communicating one-on-one, ensure your confidence and passion for the topic are evident.
If writing a piece, confident and persuasive language such as ‘I recommend…’, ‘I advise…’, and ‘I believe we should…’ communicates clarity and purpose.
Always use inclusive and courteous language to elicit warmth. Examples like ‘Let’s all…’, ‘I’d appreciate your invaluable support..’, and ‘With this x initiative, we will all benefit from…’ increase influence and coax cooperation.
What’s the bottom line?
The passion and confidence you display while delivering your content are reassuring because they elicit trust. Just ensure you don’t sacrifice warmth in the process. Remember that people are more likely to be persuaded by likeable, competent people.
So allow your passion and confidence to shine through, but always tie your recommendations to improving the audience’s lives in some way.
Step #3: Reiterate the ‘big idea’ to your audience
Reiterate your overall premise or the ‘big idea’ at the end of your communication.
The foundational question would have revealed what you needed to address. But at different phases in your delivery, repeat what the audience should know or feel and explain why they should care.
The ‘big idea’ should be a concise, powerful statement followed by a call-to-action. Use this ‘big idea’/call-to-action formula in your communication to help your audience retain information. Below are variations of some statements I use in my communication training programmes:
‘Today, we’ve discussed ‘open’ body language behaviours, persuasion techniques, and the three rules of communication to boost trust, increase credibility, and lead more effectively.’ (The ‘big idea’).
‘Apply the three rules of effective communication to sharpen your influence and rally support for your causes.’ (The call-to-action).
Then, I end my sessions along these lines:
‘When you commit to these techniques/rules/formula, I guarantee three things/three things will be assured: First, you…Second, you…And third, you…Thank you for your participation.’
The ultimate display of professionalism is recapping the critical learning points, highlighting the value you provided, and pointing the audience in the right direction to reap the benefits of your recommendations.
Whatever the purpose of your communication, note that your audience will appreciate reminders of the ‘big idea’. This angle is helpful if, like me, you’re required to spend hours facilitating a session for experienced professionals.
Even if you’re giving a presentation/pitch/address, crafting a powerful email, or writing a persuasive proposal/report, ensure you reiterate the ‘big idea’ at least twice in your communication. Do this at the beginning (so the audience has something to look forward to) and at the end (so they don’t lose sight of the essential next steps).
This step will make you unforgettable.
When communicating to persuade people, nothing is as important as prioritising and addressing your audience’s concerns.
That’s why the directive ‘Know your audience’ is my first rule of all effective communication. It’s also evergreen advice you’d receive from communication experts and consultants.
What I realised from facilitating the communication programme for Bank Z keeps ringing true in other communication activities I deliver — from speaking and training to writing:
The audience determines the content you use, the style you choose, the format you adopt, and the impact with which you deliver.
Realise that your effectiveness as a professional/executive/leader is tied to how well you connect with the audience and how they receive/support you.
It’s always about the audience.
Do you need help with your communication skills?
I love working with ambitious professionals, executives, entrepreneurs, and business leaders worldwide.
You already know my approach, my credibility, and my experience. So, kindly get in touch, and let’s explore how my transformational communication coaching and training services will catapult you to success in your career or business.
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N.B: First and fourth images are courtesy of OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay. Second and third images are courtesy of Gerd Altmann via Pixabay.