Adapt Your Communication to Your Audience to Achieve Greater Success

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By John Lonsdorf, President, R&J Public Relations

January has been a busy month for me.  Seemingly before I could digest my holiday dinners, I flew to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show on January 5.  I was home for just long enough to take down the Christmas tree and put away the decorations before I left for the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando on January 17.

So what’s the point?  Is this some “Where in the world is John” thing?  Hardly.

You see, while I was at NAVC in Orlando, fresh from the CES show in Las Vegas, I was struck by the incredible difference between the two groups.  Everyone at CES was in a big rush.  Personal space was completely disregarded.  There were people from all over the world, with any given language being spoken at any time.  Everyone was in a big hurry – and when they were forced to NOT be in a hurry, like in one of the many very long cab lines, frustrations sometimes boiled over.  Several people were rude to doormen, cabbies, fellow show attendees – you get the picture.

Fast forward a week to Orlando, to a conference of roughly 25,000 veterinarians, veterinary assistants and practice managers.  People were courteous; shuttle busses loaded and unloaded in the most orderly and (dare I say) civil manner.  If you wanted to talk with someone – at their booth, at lunch, in one of the conferences – people looked you in the eye, asked you your name and where you were from, and gave you as much time as you wanted. There were smiles everywhere.

This is not to say that veterinarians are better people than CE professionals.  Not at all!  It’s just that, just as the shows themselves were dissimilar, the people at these two shows were different from each other.  Each audience had its own needs and purpose.  Its own characteristics.  Its own rhythm.

And the worst thing we can do as communicators is to try to speak to both audiences in the same way, with the same words, the same tone or the same “voice.”

I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise to public relations and communication professionals.  In the very first college communication course I took, it was emphasized that the first thing you need to consider is who your audience is.  But, you know human nature – it’s easy to forget even the most basic lessons from time to time.  So here are a few things I find helpful to keep in mind:

  • “Be the ball” (with a nod to Chevy Chase in “Caddyshack”) – Try to get inside the collective mind of your audience, or, if possible, become a part of that audience.  Prepare by reading a few pieces from established leaders in the field.  Talk to people from that audience ahead of time.  Work to get a feel for what makes them tick.
  • Determine your intent – What is your goal?  If you are trying to drive people to action, speak to them in a way that you believe will move them.  Remember the “nice” veterinarians?  Would you try to move them to action with strident words or a fear-based premise?
  • Choose your voice – As best as you can, your language should reflect your audience’s values and personality traits.  For a technical audience, use words that reflect their education and training.  Play to your audience’s shared experiences and common ground.  Be mindful how word choices affect the reception of your message.  And don’t ever, ever talk or write down to your audience.
  • Be authentic – Your audience – whether it be for a written piece or an in-person communication — will likely spot a phony in a matter of minutes.  So authentically present who you are, what you represent, and why your audience should pay attention to your message.  Believe in what you’re communicating, and your audience will believe along with you.

So before you start to communicate, consider your audience first.  Then tailor your words, your tone and your rhythm to fit the particular audience and their specific situation.

When you know what your audience wants, likes – or even needs – and you tailor your communication to meet those needs, your audience will be much more interested in what you have to write or say.  And as a result, your PR communication will be better and more effective.

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