Understanding Your Audience

By Lauren Carter

I hope you’ve been having a beautiful week so far. Today I want to share with you why really understanding your audience and putting your audience’s needs above your own is super important when communicating in plain English. In fact, I’d say it’s actually the most important thing you need to consider!

Why understanding your audience is super important

Plain English doesn’t mean “dumbing things down”. It means putting your audience’s needs above your own and making sure that they can understand what you’re talking about. Using plain English helps you explain even the most complex concepts to your audience in a way that makes sense to them. Apart from your audience understanding exactly what you’re saying or writing, there’s also some other awesome benefits too!

Here are some of them:

  • You spend less time trying to explain your programs and services to clients.
  • You build rapport with your clients easily because they actually understand what you’re saying.
  • Your clients trust you and your organisation more, so they start referring their friends and family to you.
  • Your organisation easily renews your existing government contracts and secures new ones because you can show that you know how to effectively communicate with your clients and put their needs first.
  • Your local community starts filling job vacancies with local people who have gone through your programs and gotten the skills they need to work and contribute to the community because your program information was in an accessible format.

And all of this comes from putting your audience’s needs first and making sure they understand what you’re saying. The possibilities are truly endless!

How to put your audience first

But how do you actually put your audience’s needs first? There’s two steps:

  1. Identify your audience
  2. Work out what they need

Identifying your audience is really simple. All you need to do is think about who will use your text. Think about their age, English level, language background, gender, where they live, education level, and any other relevant information. Obviously, this won’t be applicable to every situation, but just pick and choose what’s relevant to you and your situation.

For example, the way I communicate with an adult who grew up in Australia, speaks English natively, and went to university will be completely different to how I communicate with an adult who lives in Australia but grew up in rural China, has low English literacy, and left school when he was 12.

Once you’ve worked out your audience, the second part of the puzzle is identifying what your audience actually needs. Working this out is really simple too. All you need to do is ask yourself the following questions about the topic you’re communicating about:

  • What does my audience need to know?
  • What do they already know?
  • What questions might they have?
  • What is the best outcome for my audience and what do I need to say or write to get this outcome?

Push your ego aside and stop thinking about what you want to communicate or how you should do it. For communication to truly be successful, you need to put your audience first and look at things from their perspective.
 But what happens if you have two or more audiences? It’s simple – write two or more texts. I know it’s more time consuming, but it’s necessary to make sure both your audiences understand the information.

To put it in context, imagine you work at a primary school and you need to explain something to a parent and their 7 year old child. You wouldn’t speak to the child in the same way you would speak to the parent. You’d simplify what you say to the child to make sure they understood what you were saying.

So if you speak in two different ways to two different audiences, then you should definitely write two different texts when you have two different audiences.

This Week’s Challenge

So my friend, my challenge for you this week is to really think about your audience and their needs. Who are you communicating with? What do they need to know?

I encourage you to think about these questions in any situation too – when communicating with students who have low English literacy, or native English-speaking colleagues, or the parents at your kids’ school, or the shop attendant at your local petrol station or post office.

It doesn’t matter if they’re native or non-native English speakers. Just really connect with them and take a moment to really consider who they are and what they need.

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