Find the right audience and ensure your message reaches them for successfully targeted communication.

Let’s begin this article on targeted communication wth a little story. See, I used to work behind the scenes on a popular morning show. The following story is an example of the craziness that could have occurred on any day on set.

“Annnd we’ll be right back,” the host said directly into the camera.

It had been a long day. We had already shot the morning show, and were now in the middle of the last taping for the day, and this one was a doozy. The show was titled ‘Secret Crushes’ and it was one of those shows where everyone on the panel seemed to have one issue or another, with one staff-member or another. In this instance, one of the panel (or guests if you prefer) was arguing with the stylist about her hair, the make-up artist about her makeup, and wardrobe about parking. (Just kidding, wardrobe about her two-piece pantsuit.)

“It’s going to make me look like some kinda office worker,” the guest kept saying. (Saying being a code word for yelling.) The wardrobe lady, rolled her eyes for the third time, (I could usually tell how long the discussion was going to last based on the number of eye-rolls, there were usually eight before she began to listen), and said, “Well, one of us is a paid personal stylist, and one of us works in a factory. But yes, let’s put those jeans that have never been in season by the way, back on, and go back out and tell the show that you know more about fashion than I do.”

Internal sigh. This was setting up to be a long conversation.

The interesting thing is everyone in this room wanted the exact same things:

  1. For the guests to have as dramatic a make-over show as possible
  2. For the audience to respond favorably to those make-overs for better ratings
  3. For the day to be over

The problem in that conversation is the same problem that many of us face everyday; everyone in that room was communicating to themselves rather than to the person to whom they meant to be communicating.

Think about it.

Yesterday, I was in a meeting where the person holding the meeting threw their deck up, its guiding principle apparently being to put as many bullet points and as many words as possible on each slide. He took that guiding principle as a personal challenge apparently because it was…full. He then promptly turned his back to the rest of us, and read each of those words to us, while we all silently read along.

It was…excruciating.

Still, how many of us have had to endure that same meeting? Worse yet, how many of us have been the person making the communication, or meeting worse rather than better?

One of my favorite classes to give is one called ‘targeted tommunication’. It’s a class where I go into an environment and the most common ways that the staff communicates to each other, (text, emails, cell etc), and figure out if there is a way that they can do it better, and or more efficiently.

So, what does it take for true targeted tommunication to transpire? Follow these steps:

Successful targeted communication isn’t about you

In the case of the PowerRanger, (that’s what I call people who use PowerPoint decks to make me sit through a bedtime story), the issue is pretty common. When you are creating your deck, you need to get out of your own way by answering this question: “When I am sitting in the audience, and I’ve seen the person turn their back and read the slide to me, I have:

    1. Listened intently
    2. Been grateful for them reading it because I forgot my glasses
    3. Wondered what I was doing in this room. Really, like, why didn’t they just send us all the deck instead? I could’ve read it at my desk
    4. Oh, wait, he’s looking at me and nodding. I should nod like I know what we’re talking about too

Someone watching your back as you read your slides from this point on should be considered a lack of great communication.

Think about the best conversation you’ve ever had, and without even knowing you I can predict some truths about it, it was almost certainly in person, you felt as if your voice was heard, there was an emotional component to the conversation and you left with a smile on your face.

Now think again about your last meeting. Same thing, right?

Targeted communication is about finding the balance between the information or content that you want to communicate and knowing that you are communicating it well. This can only be done if you are able to receive non-verbal feedback, (or agreed upon verbal feedback), from your audience. The main reason that most people turn their backs to the audience is because they are nervous to be in front of people, rather, they are nervous about looking foolish. Well, you’re going to look foolish sooner or later, to one person or another. So go to the bathroom, assume a power stance for a couple of minutes, check your hair teeth and zipper, and just do your best. The moment you don’t turn your back on your audience? You’ve already succeeded over most of the people that you will be speaking to, at least in this arena.

Know your Audience

One of my favorite examples of this happened when my daughter was around two or three. She and my wife were playing a particularly fun round of the nightly game ‘Chase-cry-scream-bath-time’, (it looked as if my daughter was going to win), when my wife caught me sitting in my chair smiling at them. “You think this is so funny? YOU give her her bath Mr. Training master! I’m tired.”

My first thought was that I should’ve hidden in the garage as I did most nights, but then it occurred to me to use the same kind of targeted communication skills at home that I was always touting at work.

“Fine. Mrs. Master trainer. I will.” I responded, while walking into my daughters’ room.

Pretending not to notice her amazing hiding place of in her closet with the door not quite closed in case the monsters were in there, I grabbed two of her favorite toys. “Honey, I’m giving you your bath tonight, so you can only take one toy to play with, do you care which one we take?”

She immediately jumped out of the closet to look at which toys I had chosen. “I want the ducky.” She exclaimed, I reminded her that if she took the ducky, we should make the bath a bubble bath because ducky’s loved bubbles. She agreed. After the bath, I continued to ask her for her opinion as to which nighty she wanted to wear. She picked from my two choices, as well as from my/her two choices of bedtime stories we would read together.

As I walked triumphantly back into the living room to resume the book I had been reading I made a point of smiling at my wife in victory. In my opinion, it was my only mistake of the evening.

The ensuing argument notwithstanding, I had proven my point for targeted communication: Know your audience.

In this instance, at least to my mind, the issue was that my wife always argued that there was going to be a bath. For me, the bath was going to happen, why not ‘argue’ about the toy instead, something that would only affect a detail not the overall outcome?

Targeted communication means knowing what’s important

Most of us know our material or content well enough to be able to talk about it without looking at a lot of papers, a screen, or our deck. If you must look at your content while communicating to during a meeting, there are lots of little tricks you can try;

    1. Place your laptop in front of you so that you can see the little screen while everyone else is looking at the larger screen behind you. This way you don’t have to turn your back, and you get to see the reaction your audience is having in real time. (An added bonus is that most of the other people in your meeting will retain more of the information simply by proxy of your looking in their general direction. It’s much harder for them to ‘wander off’.)
    2. If your material is hard-copy, simply go through and highlight one or two important words per bullet, or paragraph You only need the words that will help you to remember what you’re talking about.
    3. Ask questions from your audience that will get them to help you move to your next point. People are much better at remembering if they were integral to the flow of the conversation.

Watch your tone for targeted communication

It’s not what you say it’s how you say it. We’ve all heard this so I won’t ‘explain’ it here. But as a reminder; it doesn’t matter what you are trying to communicate if the tone in which you are saying it comes across as demeaning or mocking. Targeted communication is a two-way street. Look at your material, vocal, soft or hard copy, is it too technical? Is it too simple?

In a previous life, I, along with everyone else used to dread our weekly meeting because a certain person from the Help-desk would spend most our time talking about…well, stuff we usually didn’t understand, (or care about unless it broke), she would go into the most granular details of what ever technical issue there had been, and be just as thorough as she explained her fixes. At the end of each of her lectures, she would ask if there were any questions. Most of us had the good sense (and common decency) to stare blankly. But occasionally someone would ask a question. The barely contained sighs of consternation emitting from the rest of the room told the person asking that question two things:

  1. They were now accountable for the next 20 minutes of over-explaining that the rest of us were doomed to endure. And
  2. If they had put their lunch in the fridge in the breakroom, the rest of us were going to secretly divide it up amongst ourselves as a penalty.

As for the IT person in question, she would sigh just as loudly, but from exasperation, as she would always answer any question with: “AS I HAVE ALREADY STATED…”

And who doesn’t love an answer that begins that way? If we had to put this into simpler terms, it would be this: Tone isn’t simply about what you say, it’s about the way you sigh before you say it, about the way you roll your eyes while you say it, and what you ask after you say it.

Watch your tone.

Encourage the audience to tell you what they have just heard

 If you want to be heard be prepared to listen. Or as Gramma Springfield used to say: “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much as you speak.”

We can’t be perfect all the time. Sometimes a difficult day, a difficult topic, or person (heck even low blood sugar) can make it difficult to keep targeted communication in the forefront of our minds if we hope to reach the right audience, and maintain our personal brand.

In the instance of the panelist having the makeover, we got lucky. The woman’s mother, who had called the show originally to ask for her daughter to be made over intervened. “Gracy, (not her real name), you might as well try one of those outfits. I shredded those ugly jeans of yours already.”

Gracy looked at her mother with her mouth open for a second before shouting, “Well, thanks momma, now I gotta wear the stupid clothes they want me to wear!”

She did.

The overall effect of the make-over was stunning.

The audience applauded so much that Gracy cried at the response, stating that she loved it.

We all got to go home. All in all, a good day.