I had an important meeting last week with an individual with whom I work very closely. Everything was not right. Some feathers had been ruffled and we needed to talk it out. There was a day when I would simply stew until the meeting and try to get it all out on the table when we met. Today, I am proud to say that I have finally learned how to prepare properly for conversations like this. I sat back and tried to understand my audience before the meeting.
Understanding your audience is critical to any successful communication whether it is between two people, a group of people or ‘one on many’ people. Any information you can collect beforehand will help with the ultimate outcome. The more you can learn about their needs, state of mind, attitude or position could make the difference between a successful interaction or a disaster.
Here then are my 4 Tips for better understanding your audience before you start to communicate.
1. Ask them. Ok, When selling, we are taught to probe first, ask the questions before you frame the solution. We are not necessarily selling here but the rules still apply. Ask the questions first. Take time before the meeting or discussion to understand what the other party(s) understand or want or feel. Connect with them beforehand and ask for some background. As presenters, we should always do this – ask enough questions to be able to walk in front of an audience and deliver with ‘authority’. This includes using the right names of people and places, appropriate examples and strong references with which the audience can relate to. This is preparation. This is understanding your audience.
2. Do your research. When I arrive in a city to present at a conference the next day I will often purchase a local paper. It gives me a connection to the audience that may come in handy the next day. When meeting with someone for the first time I might check them out on Linkedin or even google their name if appropriate. Do your research. If necessary, call others to get the right information that you need to fully understand your audience.
3. Put yourself in their position. Sit back and ask yourself “if I were him/her/them what would I be thinking. What would I want to hear?” This is something we don’t do very often but it can work so well. As a professional speaker I do this all the time. We should all do this before speaking to any audience at any level.
4. Confirm your assumptions. Once you have done all of this or instead of any of this, you need to have a process whereby you confirm what you think you know. I will typically arrive at an event with enough time to chat with delegates to confirm what I think I understand about them – asking questions like what do you do? Who do you work for? What is your role? At the start of a meeting, we should all verbally confirm our confirmations. If our assumptions are off in any way, this is the time to catch it.
So, to improve your communications, make an effort to better understand your audience. You will find that the message is better received, the audience is more receptive and you will be better prepared for the responses.
Hey parents – this advice works with your kids too?