When you say something at work—whether in writing, in conversation, or in a presentation—you need to know what you’re talking about. By mastering the substance of your message, you convey competence and confidence.
But knowing your stuff is not enough. You also need to know your audience. That’s how you create connection.
All good business communication begins with the audience in mind.
Who are you trying to reach? How can you reach them? What do you want them to do or feel or believe? The more specifically you can answer these questions, the better.
Audience research and demographics are a good start. For example, each of these audience profiles would inspire a different message:
- Single millennials enrolled in U.S. universities but studying abroad
- HR employees your company has hired in the past 18 months
- Retired auto industry workers who are registered to vote in Ohio and Michigan
- Executive directors for the world’s 50 best-funded charitable organizations
- Expectant first-time fathers over age 40
But here’s the thing about demographic data: Unless you have a proprietary source for that information, anyone and everyone could be using those same facts and figures to shape their communications.
If you want to connect with your audience in a unique and meaningful way, you need to know them in a unique and meaningful way.
This, my friends, is where imagination can be a serious business advantage.
Here are four creative ways to know your audience differently.
1. Speak to one person. A real one.
Marketers have been typecasting customers into “personas” for years. It’s a useful way to distill a mass audience down to a relatable character. Call it realistic fiction.
But I’m suggesting non-fiction. Choose one actual person from your audience—a real human being with a name, address, and beating heart. Think about her, and write a character sketch that illustrates who she is, how she thinks, and what matters to her. What does she do? What doesn’t she do? What lights her up? What brings her down?
Write a paragraph or a page (or more) about this living, breathing person. Save the description, and add to it when inspiration strikes. Then, before you craft any message for the audience this individual represents, read your character sketch. Let it influence what you say and how you say it.
2. Read Write your audience’s diary.
To more fully appreciate your audience’s perspective, write from it. Assume the character and write in the first person, stream-of-consciousness style. Write as if you were making notes in a personal journal.
Here are a few questions to get you started: What did you do today? Where have you been? Where are you going? What decisions are you facing? Who’s with you? Who’s against you? What gets in your way? What keeps you up at night? What makes you excited to get up in the morning? What’s on your bucket list? What’s on your gratitude list? Who’s on your shit list?
Pick up your pen and your audience’s mindset. Be the person you need to reach, and learn from whatever comes to mind.
3. Picture your audience. Literally.
Give your audience an actual face. If you’ve embraced the advice in #1 above, go one step more: Find a photo of the real-life person you described. A quick internet search is likely to turn up at least a social media profile pic (it’s not stalking; it’s research).
Even a fictional persona can have a face. In my first job out of college, I wrote marketing messages for a management consulting firm. I didn’t personally know any c-suite executives making decisions for massive companies, but they were my target audience. So I “decorated” my office wall with magazine photos of senior executives. Picture a collage of middle-aged white guys in suits and ties (this was the 1990s), like Central Casting headshots for a movie about CEOs. Facing a new writing assignment, I could stare at one of those photos and imagine what that guy was thinking, what he’d like to read, what words might get his attention.
Find a photo of the person you need to reach. Look into his photographed eyes, and write.
4. Invent dialogue.
Imagine a conversation with your target audience. Hear it in your head. Better yet, write it out as if it were a script or screenplay.
What if you happened to be seated together on a plane or at dinner? Who would speak first? What would be the opening line? What would be the response? How would you introduce or transition into your message? How would the other person react? Would they ask a question? Answer it. Would they protest or make excuses? Address every objection.
Choose a scene, envision the characters, and create the conversation. Use this imaginary discussion to find and organize the key points for your message.
All good business communication begins with a creative mind.
Use your imagination to explore and understand your target audience in new ways. When you think differently about the people you’re trying to reach, you’ll discover unique ways to connect with them.