Who Is Your Audience?

“Know your audience.” It’s the first rule of good communication. Whether you are a novelist, a journalist, or a public speaker, you have to know the nature of the audience you are addressing. Misunderstand your audience, and they will turn on you. Sometimes viciously.

But there are unintended audiences as well, and the most sophisticated communication takes them into account, because they can turn on you too. Consider the following video. It was prepared by the USA Bid Committee, acting on behalf of the United States Soccer Federation. The Bid Committee works to secure a bid to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. The audience is the members of the World Cup site selection committee, members of FIFA, the world governing body of soccer.

But there is a secondary audience. You don’t bring in Morgan Freeman to narrate and include President Clinton, Mia Hamm, and Spike Lee only to reach a couple of dozen deciders. No, the audience is much larger, and there is a great lesson here for organizations of all sizes and purposes.

When I watch this video, I feel a surge of pride in my country. The secondary audience for this video is fans of the U.S. National team, fans of soccer, and fans of sports. If you read the comments on You Tube, you see the pride the video generates. As someone said, “You had me at Morgan Freeman.” The result of that pride is increased energy and excitement for the support of the bid and greater fan support.

Put this in the context of your organization. Do you share your communication and marketing materials within your company? Do you let your employees experience the pride of their efforts? They are your biggest fans, and when you prepare marketing materials, you have the benefit of reaching your secondary audience. The consequences of this are all positive:

  1. Employees and staff can take pride in their accomplishments and see how they are valued through the representation of your product or service.
  2. You reinforce the mission and vision of your organization internally. The Bid Committee’s message is simple and delivered in Morgan Freeman’s fabulous voice, “We are the world’s home away from home.” That’s America’s vision.
  3. You give your stakeholders the language to speak about your company or organization. “The world is in us.” “Bring it to my country.” “My country loves this game.” “Bring the World Cup to the United States.”

When people take pride in their organization, they share that pride with friends and families. Your audience grows. No matter what size your business is, you can spread your influence further by ensuring that your employees have pride in their efforts.

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Sentence of the Week: Week 3

“On October 30, I’m holding the march to Keep Fear Alive, unless the sun explodes incinerating half the earth and casting the other half into eternal night, which many scientists could say might happen.”

Stephen Colbert famously created a new word for our times: “truthiness.” Even though it’s a nonsensical term, I feel its meaning in my gut. Colbert uttered our sentence of the week on his September 28 broadcast. The sentence and especially that last phrase capture the idea of truthiness completely.

Colbert Poster
Experts say the march could be a huge success

The sentence hangs on the audience’s understanding of an epidemic of bad journalism that is sweeping the country. Name newspapers and high-caliber TV news organizations have joined the sorry masses of schlock journalists in a scourge of poor research, misrepresentation, and talking-point reporting.

News watchers can identify the blight by the use of certain phrases. “It has been reported…” “Some say…” “Experts have noted…” Colbert’s audience knows that when those phrases appear an unsubstantiated “fact” will follow, and news will sidle over into opinion with barely a whisper.

“Which many scientists say might happen,” with the “could” removed, would be welcomed on the nightly news broadcasts and cable politics shows. In fact, it may be a direct quote. The information would have the backing of the authority of the news organization, which people trust. (Although that trust is declining rapidly.) In truth, the many scientists might number 15 while the scientists in disagreement could number thousands. That fact would not be reported because the information would not fit the perspective of either the reporter or the news organization. As Mark Twain said long ago, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” And as people are fond of saying these days, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.”

By inserting “could” Colbert tweaks both the sentence and the news organizations that have fallen into such poor form. Those of us in the know feel just a little smarter and better about ourselves. Truthiness, indeed.

I almost forgot. It’s funny, too.