What Does it Mean to Know Your Audience?

When writing a report or designing a presentation, hitting your target audience is essential to success. But knowing what that target looks like and what portion of it you should aim for changes constantly. How can we plan to consistently hit the mark?

First, we must try to understand and define our target audience.

A few questions to consider:

  • Who do you consider the target audience? (a boss, a client, a co-worker, a user-group, etc…)
  • Who needs this information most? (this may differ from your answer above)
  • What content will motivate that target to listen/read? (what will you communicate that might serve the target’s self-interest?)
  • What pressures is the target dealing with? (deadlines, budgets, other concerns?)
  • How could your message(s) help alleviate any of those pressures for your target?
  • What past experiences does the target bring to your communication topic? Can those experiences be classified as positive, negative, or neutral?
  • What past experiences does the target audience have with you as a communicator? Can those experiences be classified as positive, negative, or neutral?

Once we have a picture of who our target audience is, we can plan and design our communication approach around them. Regardless of our medium (report, presentation, email, etc…), a basic tenant of human psychology can help us here. Humans love a good story. The more we can build our communication around a storyline, the more successful our message is likely to be.

Organizing our communication into a story may sound simple, until we recognize that the story needs to be customized for our target audience. Here, it helps to review basic story elements and return to our audience analysis questions that we started with above.

Of course, our communications often have more than one, well-defined target audience, and sometimes it can be tricky to balance mixed audience needs in a presentation or secondary and tertiary audiences in a written document. These considerations can make our audience analysis more complex and threaten to bloat our storyline with too many details to suit every audience that might ever be interested or involved with our communication effort. When that threat looms in your design process, it helps to pull back to the basics and remember that less is more for most audiences.

When we take the time to answer these basic questions and critically analyze the purpose of our communication before we begin crafting it, we set a defined trajectory to hit our target with precision.

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