Following a presentation I gave as an intern at a Washington DC Think-Tank, I had two separate people from the audience come up to give me feedback. The first person complimented my presentation, saying that he enjoyed the content and style, and how interspersing moments of levity and humor made an otherwise traditional presentation more entertaining and engaging. He also added that incorporating those elements, it made the presentation standout and more memorable. The second person was not so kind. He told me that while the presentation had lots of good information, the information, and the presentation in general, was undermined by the occasional lack of seriousness and professionalism. At this point I’ll add that I tend to have a dry, sarcastic sense of humor that lends itself well to commenting on otherwise serious topics. Anyways, being confused about receiving the opposing feedback, I went and talked with my supervisor who proceeded to tell me that both people were right, which cleared everything up.
End of story (see, I can’t help it, the sarcasm flows naturally). Just kidding, and moving on.
What my supervisor went on to explain was that one of the most important factors to consider when giving a presentation, or when communicating by any means, is to know your audience and your purpose:
- Who are talking to?
- Why are you talking to them?
- What do you hope to accomplish?
The answers to these questions will determine the appropriateness of the content and style of your presentation, article, report, essay, etc.
In my aforementioned case, the feedback from both people was right because I was not presenting to a homogenous audience. My audience was basically anyone who showed up in response to an open-invite sent to other DC Think-Tanks to come hear presentations on a wide-range of topics. As a result, my audience spanned pretty much every spectrum, demographic, and interest, meaning a presentation designed to resonate with one particular audience, was not likely to resonate with another.
This is not usually the case. Usually when presenting or communicating, you are doing so to a specific audience, and you have a specific purpose (inform, advocate, argue, etc.). Consequently, the “know your audience, know your purpose” advice has stuck with me and is probably one of the most valuable pieces of advice I have received. If you give a presentation that is wrong for your audience, and fails to emphasize your purpose, it does not matter how accurate or insightful it is, it will fall flat, be quickly forgotten, or ignored, and you will have wasted your time.
Know Your Writing Style
Over the years I’ve worked in a variety of environments, each requiring their own communication style; particularly regarding writing style. Each different environment required me to learn the specific audience I was writing for, understand what I wanted to accomplish through my writing, and adjust and adapt my writing style as necessary. Writing in an academic environment, my purpose was to explain and inform, and I knew that my audience was most likely other academics, already somewhat familiar with my topic, and who, most importantly, had time. I could use a more lengthy, detailed, and high-level writing style, and statistics and quotes were encouraged and appreciated because they acted as direct evidence.
Contrast this to working in a policy analysis environment where, though my purpose was similar, the audience was very different. This audience was busy and needed complex topics broken down into more generalized, easy to understand points, as quickly and succinctly as possible. If you were lucky they read two paragraphs and if you could fit everything into one that was ideal. Anything that required a page turn was immediately labeled TLDR (too long didn’t read). These straight-to-the-point, executive summary style assignments were and still are my nightmare because brevity is not my forte. Though you’ve probably already figured that out by now, or from a previous blog, which in its first draft, I was told in no uncertain terms by the guardians of our blog was definitely TLDR.
The last environment I worked in before coming to gap intelligence was the legal environment. Anyone who has attempted to read “Terms & Conditions” for just about anything knows legal writing is infamous for being exceedingly long, convoluted, and confusing. Written in the language of “legalese” is how we would refer to certain documents where the opportunity to use a double-negative was never not used and if you tried to diagram a sentence it would look like the chalkboard in A Beautiful Mind. But how else could a company get you to give up all your personal information or agree to arbitration in the Bahamas except by burying it on page 30 of a 50 page document filled with terms from a dead language? Here too I had to adapt my writing style for a different audience and a different purpose. These would routinely change depending on the nature of the work I was doing on any given day.
Your Voice Matters
At gap intelligence we strive to be our clients’ “eyes and ears in the marketplace.” We know our audience is busy but also needs a certain depth of information so that they can make the correct strategic decisions for their companies. As a result, the communication and writing style we employ is one of balance between readability, conciseness, and essential, need-to-know information.
If there is a complex paragraph that we can break down into easy to understand bullet points we do. If a company decides to obscure its earnings results by burying them behind a bunch of meaningless, overly optimistic, and enthusiastic statements, we cut through the fluff. On the occasions where we do tread into dangerous TLDR territory, we always make sure to provide a bulleted, main-point summary up-front.
Though I highly encourage you to read every word we write as it is all brilliant, insightful, informative, and (hopefully) at least somewhat entertaining (where appropriate of course). Know your audience. Also, lucky for me, I am surrounded by a number of truly talented writers who are experts in their categories and that I can always trust to gently nudge me back in line when I start sliding back into bad writing habits of past lives.
For more than 17 years, gap intelligence has served manufacturers and sellers by providing world-class services monitoring, reporting, and analyzing the 4Ps: prices, promotions, placements, and products. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 619-574-1100 to learn more.