Get A Handle on Your Audience

Your audience can be as diverse as your department, your employees, your clients, your competition, your board of directors, even your prospective employees. How you write your business communications depends on who your audience will be. A few ideas on how to determine your audience in order to write more effectively for them follow.

1. Who are they? Sounds easy enough, right? Well, sure if you know exactly the type of person to focus on. Who are the key influencers? Who has the most direct power? Who can influence the outcome of the communication? Who has indirect influence (opinion leaders, potential allies, even those who just stamp approvals or route the communications)?

2. What do they know? How much information will they need (background information, new information)? What do they already know about the topic? What do they need to learn about the topic? What are their expectations and preferences?

3. What do they feel? What kind of emotions or feelings will arise as they read or hear your message? What is their current situation? How interested are they in your message? Is it low priority or high priority? Will they actually read it with interest and listen carefully? How curious are they and how much do they care about the issue or its outcome?

4. How can you persuade them? What is their probable bias? Positive or negative? Are they likely to favor your conclusions, be indifferent to what you propose, or be adamantly opposed to your ideas? Is your desired action (as every piece of communication you write must include some desired action) easy or hard for them? Will it be something they aren't interested in doing? Will it be a burden or a joy? Will they agree to your ideas with gusto or reluctance?

All of this is something you need to think about before writing your piece or speech. If you do think of these issues, you will likely be able to predict a response rate and a response attitude from your intended audience. CEOs and managers often put off writing until they "have to do it," which creates a badly written and poorly thought-out piece that doesn't accomplish what they set out to do in the first place. Taking a bit of extra time to think through objectives before you "have to write it" will help you to create a piece of communication that will do its job well. Plus, those who read your communication will be glad you did.

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