Think about one of your favorite stories to tell. Maybe it’s a memorable moment in childhood. Maybe it’s a moment of courage. Or fear. Or happiness. Whatever it is, think about that story for a moment.
Got it in your head? Okay.
Now think about how you would tell that story at the bar with friends. How about how you would tell it to your mom? How about to kids? How about to your boss? Does the way you would tell the story change at all?
When I was a community organizer with the Gamaliel Foundation back in the day, I attended a fabulous session on powerful story telling given by John Norton, one of the senior organizers at the time. He gave an example of a story of a life-changing moment for him—his father’s death. He proceeded to dramatically change how we, the audience, connected with the story based on how he decided to tell it. One version moved us to tears. Another made us laugh out loud. Yet another hit us in the gut with the powerful lesson he chose to extract from it.
The stories that make up our experience provide the best and most interesting way for us to give context and meaning to the messages we try to communicate. They can be evidence of how we know the point we are trying to make to be valid and true, because it’s based on experience we’ve personally had. Stories are the way in which we as humans communicate our shared existence to one another. They are powerful instruments.
Which means, it is critical that we evaluate our audience when thinking about how to tell the story we’ve chosen in the right way. And the “right way” to tell a story is all about context, meaning, and the ultimate goal you have for your audience.
But it’s not just stories. It’s our presentations, both formal and informal. It’s how we communicate during a meeting. This isn’t a post about stories. It’s a post about the importance of considering our audience in every type of communication.
Here are five things to evaluate about your audience when decided what to communicate, and more importantly, how to communicate it.
What’s your goal? Do you want to move them? Inform them? Highlight an important lesson? Humor them? Get them to make a decision? Persuade them?
Why are THEY here?
Do they know? Do they have any expectations you need to consider?
Demographically, professionally, and in terms of their relationships to you. The more detail you can use with describing them, especially in those last two ways, the better you’ll be able to choose the most effective way to communicate your points.
What’s theirs? Do they have the same level of information about your topic that you do? What is the right starting point for your communication based on their starting point of knowledge or experience?
Finally, are you a stand-alone act? Or part of a string of presenters? In a group of people sharing stories?
Considering your audience can make the difference between effectively hitting the mark with them or going over like a lead balloon. Take the next step in improving your communication skills. We’d love to hear how it goes.