By Goke Ilesanmi
By concentrating on your specific audience, you will be able to write more focused, concise and effective correspondence, proposals and reports. If you have done the necessary research, formulated a sensible proposal, and even rewritten the final draft for your presentation at a staff meeting. The only factor you have failed to consider is one of the most important components of the communication process: knowing “to whom it may concern”.
According to by Dianna Booher, author of 40 books, and president and CEO of Booher Consultants, Inc. a communication-skills training and consulting firm offering courses in writing, grammar, presentation skills, interpersonal skills, customer service, personal productivity, listening and meetings, “How many countless documents have crossed your desk that left you scratching your head with their redundant remarks, incomplete ideas, or unclear instructions? I call these ‘so-what’ messages because your likely response to them is, ‘So what?’ Are you to write a report, hold a meeting, propose a solution or file the information for later use? Whether it is a presentation to your peers, a memo to your staff, or an email to an associate, it’s not always what you say or how you say it but how you connect to your audience that will determine the success of your messages.”
Ranking your readers
Who are your audience? Are you communicating to an entire client organisation, an average-sized department, or a few colleagues? Are they decision-makers, managers, or those with only veto power? Is their relationship to you that of a supervisor, a peer or a subordinate?
More often than not, your reports, letters and memos will go through several people—either for approval or general information. When writing to a mixed audience, communication experts say you should first rank readers in importance.
After you have pinpointed and ranked each reader or group of readers, give the most important readers their information first. Knowing your audience will help you streamline your research, shape your key message, select the most appropriate details and adapt your words more appropriately.
What are their interests? Part of knowing “to whom it may concern” is to know their concerns, biases and backgrounds. Vocabulary, areas of expertise, even mindsets differ as you move across company hierarchies, as well as up and down them. What is of little concern to a CEO may hold greater interest to a sales manager and be of extreme importance to a marketing director.
Management will most likely be concerned with issues regarding profit projections, a project’s overall significance to the company, corporate image concerns, and necessary next steps in planning. General professionals will be more concerned with the day-to-day issues—why a project is undertaken, how the research is carried out, how the policy will be re-evaluated, and what specific part they play.
Experts say specialists will be more interested in information required to do a specific job such as statistics, forms, flow charts, maps, formulas and other things generally included in the “fine print”. If you make your readers’ interests a priority, you will arrest and sustain their attention.
Level of their knowledge
How much do they already know about the subject? Instead of reiterating the obvious, be sure you do not overload others with meaningless or repetitive details. But be sure you give enough background on the problem so that they can fully understand the situation.
While your primary audience may understand all the concepts and terms, your secondary readers may need more detail because of their lack of involvement. Avoid using jargon for those readers outside your narrow field, because by employing jargon, you are only courting misunderstanding.
The amount of knowledge of your readers will determine how much detail as well as the detail to include in different sections of your document. So what is the answer to the dilemma when communicating with multiple readers who have varied interests, backgrounds and technical expertise then? Dianna Booher provides the answer. According to Booher, “Structure. Put your most important information to your most important reader up front. Lesser-ranking readers will need to read further to get the details they want.”
How they will use your information? Delivering a specific point in your document is your responsibility. Do you expect your readers to consider, discuss, act on, research or instruct others? The answer to this question will help you decide whether to write, phone or meet face to face. If your oral presentation or document is meant to keep them informed on a new advancement in their field, give a broad scope of the discovery and zero in on its significance for other projects and decisions.
If you want them to duplicate or build on your work, give them direction—all the if’s, and’s, what’s, and how’s. If they are to use your information as the basis for a decision, present your case persuasively to win their cooperation. Identify the “to whom it may concern” of your documents and oral presentations and customise your intentions and details accordingly. Clear intentions result in effective results.
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GOKE ILESANMI (FIIM, FIMC, CMC), CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Professional Public Speaker, Career Mgt Coach and Certified Mgt Consultant. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant. Tel: 08056030424; 08055068773; 08187499425