4 Surprisingly Effective Audience Research Steps Most Speakers Don’t Take to Reach and Influence

Imagine writing a company-wide memo to hundreds of employees telling them the good news: your business has been sold! You praise the buyer and the impact of this acquisition on business opportunities. You give financial updates and talk about the value of the company thanks to this development. After months of keeping it a secret, you’re so delighted to finally share all this company-wide news.

There’s only one problem, and it’s a big one: you forgot to research your audience.

But why should you? You already “know” your employees pretty well, right? Well, they start reading this memo, and from their perspective, they are suddenly faced with some changes that might affect their work. They immediately have a dozen questions about redundancy, the chain of command, and how their professional lives will change under new leadership.

Not knowing your audience could confuse them, alarm them, or just plain annoy them. In my book, Let the story do the work, I share a framework for getting to know your audience. Taking into account their existing knowledge, what interests them and what they need to hear allows you to deliver a targeted and persuasive message to achieve your goals and sell the message you need to sell. As Seth Godin noted, “You are not judged, the value of what you bring to the public is judged.”

Putting your audience first, here are four steps you can take to seek out and engage them in your next big company announcement (or your next sales pitch)!

Step 1: Assess your audience’s relationship to your topic

To get started, take a sheet of paper and divide it into Column 1 and Column 2. (You can also use our free template.)

In column 1, write down everything you think your audience already knows about your topic. In column 2, write down everything you think about your audience doesn’t know, but should. This includes new knowledge and its implications.

This exercise not only lets you see what information you need to provide to your audience, but also helps you avoid making assumptions about them.

Step 2: Do your secondary research — in context

What is secondary research? Use of existing information. Whether your audience is the heads of your company’s international offices, a room full of top philanthropists, or the faculty of a business school, there is plenty of data available publicly and internally that you can use to populate your notes columns. . Consider their occupations, priorities and challenges. Think about their goals and what they would find most useful to learn from you.

A common challenge with secondary research is that there is simply too much information available; how do you avoid falling down a rabbit hole? Contextualizing research can create a safeguard. That’s why you need to do step 1 first.

Step 3: Do some primary research

One of the best steps to strategically prepare your message for an audience is to field test it with a representative of that audience. Why? Secondary research is important, but input ‘from the horse’s mouth’ will yield the most specific advice. They can give you insight into what’s missing, what’s confusing, and what information is left after your presentation is over.

Your primary research doesn’t need to involve someone who will literally be part of your audience; they just need to be similar enough to your audience – in context – to give you relevant feedback to help you personalize your message. People you know in similar roles or industries can give you constructive advice.

Step 4: Learn and Adapt

At this point, you’ve gathered valuable information about your audience, but no matter how prepared you are, you can’t anticipate everything. Adapting to the moment of presenting – of telling your story – is essential.

Empower your audience with empathy. Leverage a connection with the people you talk to. Can you see the boredom in their body language? How about the confusion on their faces? How much are they looking at you and reacting to what you say? Be aware of your own body language. Be aware of your tone and speed of delivery.

Years ago, I wrote about how I taught a master’s-level capstone course on predictive analytics for business decisions at the University of Zurich. I was mostly getting blank stares from my American audience.

Over time, I realized that for most people, this story should simply be “I was teaching in Switzerland”. Their faces lit up and they nodded in understanding.

This audience research exercise boils down to two questions: Why should my audience care? And what do I want them to do about it? When you know your audience, you can answer these questions and you can inspire them to take action.

What do you do in cases where you don’t know who your audience will be? Scenarios like these are why we build story libraries. Shared common experiences create instant connectors. Need help finding and telling your stories? this is what we do.

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