You talkin’ to me?

Every media trainer on the planet will tell you, to be successful in getting your message across, you must know your audience. The logic is, if you know who you’re talking to, you’ll know how to communicate with them. Easy, right?

Problem is, sometimes it’s really hard to figure out who they are, and why they’ll listen to you. It’s why companies spend so much time researching their potential customers before spending money on paid media.

My background is in television, I can’t tell you how many hours of my life have been spent pouring over data stemming from ratings figures. In the world of TV, you live and die by those ratings numbers. The sick feeling in your stomach waiting for them to land in your inbox, hoping a massive audience watched the show you worked so hard to create. Those figures (apart from being a harsh factor in regard to your ongoing employment) can tell you a lot about your audience.

TV types get audiences broken down into age, sex, location, occupational group and the all important grocery buyer figure (yep, that’s what they call it).

For example, when working in current affairs,  if I saw ratings for men aged 18-34 were slipping, I’d be searching for stories that would appeal to blokes that age. If I saw we were losing viewers in a certain geographical region of Perth, I’d look into things like the ethnic groups or the socio-economic level of the area. I’d try to work out what I thought that particular audience, in those particular suburbs,  would want to watch on the telly.  

Although the system seems grossly over simplified, you can still use it to think about how you can  break down your own audience.

Good communication training will show you how to deliver the same message to different audiences. Whether its for media training or public speaking training.  I normally ask people to explain their story as if  speaking to their intellectual peers (this is normally the easiest for them). Then explain it to a group of hard-working, time poor, young parents. Then explain it to your 15-year-old clever, video game playing, nephew.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, but its ridiculously effective.

So whether you’re presenting to a room full of NASA  experts, corporate clients, or giving an interview to Channel 7 news, think about who that audience will be (hint, with traditional media the journalist is never the audience).

Break it down into a few really simple demographics and think abut what those demographics want to hear. What’s the average age of your audience, and what does that tell you about them? What’s the average socio-economic position of your audience, and what does that tell you about what’s important to them? Does their sex make a difference at all? How informed are the audience about this topic already?

Next time the joke falls flat at a party, ask yourself whether it was a bad joke, or just not appropriate for the audience who heard it. And next time you’re about to communicate, take a few minutes to think about your audience, and why they’ll care about what you’re going to say.

Written by

She’s the secret weapon behind a number of highly acclaimed television broadcasts, a producer with more than 20 years’ experience.