Know Your Audience

 In Crisis Management & Media Relations, Blog

We all switch communication styles multiple times each day. We talk to our coworkers differently than we talk to our clients, or we communicate differently on social media than we would in a formal letter. Yet, how often do we really take the time to think about our audience and tone when communicating?

I was recently reminded of this during a jury trial last month. When trying a case day after day where you are embedded in an adversarial process and constantly cross-examining witnesses, it can be hard to switch modes. I often joke that during trial, I have a hard time switching quickly into mom mode” and have to stop myself from cross-examining my kids when I get home. “You’d agree with me, wouldn’t you, that you asked for chicken nuggets and not Mac n cheese?” “Did you or didn’t you pack your shin guards for practice?” “When you told me yesterday that I needed to sign that permission slip today, you were telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, right?” As you can imagine, seven- and ten-year-olds don’t respond very well to that tone, especially when they aren’t used to that communication style from their mom.

Similarly, it makes sense to think about your audience before communicating any message, whether external or internal. One size does not fit all. Often clients want to have one statement prepared to send to a newspaper reporter, a television reporter, their employees, and their customers. Yet each audience is very different, and each audience expects a certain communication style. It’s not one size fits all.

Yet each audience is very different, and each audience expects a certain communication style. It’s not one size fits all.

If you communicate with your employees and your team the same way you would with a reporter, your employees may be a little like my kids—confused and unhappy. It doesn’t really matter how compelling your message is because the wrong tone can easily transform it into something your audience finds off-putting, inappropriate, or just ineffective. Also, your medium of communication matters. If you routinely communicate with your clients on social media, maybe that’s an appropriate way to communicate a certain message to them. But, if you always communicate by email or letters, a social media message would be ineffective. Or perhaps communicating differently from your normal method signals that this particular message is more important. That can work in your favor or not, depending on what you are trying to convey.

Little details like knowing your audience and the most effective communication method may seem trivial compared to the message itself during a crisis or a major communication for your company. But if you don’t consider these decisions, the message may be lost without the appropriate tone and medium. While it may be convenient and practical to have one message, we all know that a singular message or tone just doesn’t work in real life, and it doesn’t work in crisis communications either.


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