General Information

Understanding your audience

question-markEdward De Bono says: “Communication is always understood in the context and experience of the receiver, no matter what was intended.” So, the better you understand your audience, the more likely you are to be able to accurately target your messages and engage them in what you are trying to achieve.



What do you know about your audience? How old are they? What is their educational level? What TV programmes do they watch? What newspapers do they read? Answering these questions will help you pitch the tone and language of your communication. And if the answers to these questions vary wildly, go for the typical audience member, or subdivide your audience into smaller chunks.


To engage your audience fully, you need to understand and not guess at their current knowledge of the subject and their attitude to it. You might also find out about their reaction to previous communications on similar issues. Knowing what other big issues are on their plate helps too. Use this information to shape your communication – you'll make things difficult for yourself if you don't.


Put yourself in the shoes of people in your team and ask: What do they want or need to know? Why do they want to know it? What might motivate or engage them? What won't work? If your people don't all have the same needs, think through the best way to tackle this. You could try one-to-ones or discussions in small teams.


We are all motivated by different things. Just because you are motivated by, for example, new challenges, doesn't mean everyone else is. It does mean, unless you try hard not to, that you will communicate things in the context of new challenges, simply because that turns you on. Try finding out what motivates individuals in your team and then target your communication to that motivation. For example, if people are motivated by being successful, explain how what you are communicating can help them be more successful. The more you know about someone's motivators, the more likely you are to be able to engage them.


The needs of your audience might be many and varied. Applying a one-size-fits-all “broadcast” approach to engaging them might not be best. It might be more appropriate to “narrowcast” your messages to small teams with similar needs, as far as operationally possible. The investment in time will pay dividends if everyone gets it. The alternative is no-one gets it, and you'll spend more time putting right what needn't have gone wrong in the first place.


No book on communication and engagement is complete without a quote from a famous author. This one is no different. Rudyard Kipling tells us: “I keep six honest servingmen

They taught me all I knew
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.”

Answer these questions in your communication, and you'll go a long way to addressing the needs of your people.