2. Know that your audience is not you
Decision makers rarely want to know all the technical details before they get to your big idea
PS. Scroll to the bottom for the download and a link to the next module

I was talking with a late career engineer with two Masters’ Degrees this morning, who is part of my current Clarity First online program.

The first takeaway Shane described was the surprise that his audience has different needs than he does.
He loves detail and has traditionally provided lots of background and supporting details before he gets to his main point.

He has traditionally done this because he understands the importance of the details, and assumes his audience needs it if they are to understand his recommendation.

Having tried some different approaches to suit his audience’s needs and styles his audiences are reacting more quickly and positively to his communication.

So, let’s get practical and think through three deceptively simple ways to do that.

  • Check: Your audience may not be who you think they are
  • Understand what your real audience needs to know
  • Master how to engage them
Let’s now look in more depth at each of these elements.


Here are three simple steps you can take to understand your audience better:
  • Brainstorm the list of people that you think are relevant to this piece of communication and, if it is a high profile piece, ask a colleague to sense test that it is complete.
  • Sort them into three categories:  who will decide the outcome, who will influence (a lot or a little bit) the outcome and who else you need to consider. You may find plotting key stakeholders onto this power vs influence framework.
    Use a mix of formal knowledge (e.g., Does my subject fall within their area of responsibility?) and informal knowledge (e.g., Do they have a special interest in this area AND influence over those who will make the decision?) to do this. 
  • Use the Five Why's technique I mentioned in yesterday's module to ask yourself: Why are these people on the list? Why is this person the decision maker? Keep digging until you can describe why they are there and be sure you have categorised them correctly as you will want to manage decision makers differently than 'others' and 'influencers'.

There are again some questions to ask yourself to prompt you to understand the most important members of your audience more deeply. Here are some to get you started:
  • What do they want from you?
  • ​Do they know much about the topic?
  • ​Are they engaged in it ... at all? too much?
  • ​Do they have pre-conceived ideas that support or go against yours?
  • ​Could there be a conflict between your objectives and theirs?
Where you find conflict between your objective and theirs, spend extra time planning how you will manage these people, ideally before your formal communication is delivered. Speak to them one-on-one or find someone who has a good relationship with them to do it either for you or with you to understand their concerns and increase your chance of engagement.

You may also get some more useful ideas from my blog post: Do facts change minds


This last piece is not to be underestimated. At the highest level we can assume all audience members are intelligent and in a hurry, and that it is safe to provide pre-reading for those who are interested.

However, we can engage the most important members of our audiences, the decision makers, better when we understand their work style. We use the Bolton and Bolton Work Styles framework to help us do that.

With its foundations in the well-known Myers Briggs framework, Bolton and Bolton looks at a person’s behaviour in a particular setting at a particular point in time and divides us all into four work styles.

It is useful to understand these, so we can identify our own style as well as that of our audience so we can flex to their needs. We can do this directly if we know them or through others where we do not.

Amiables are motivated first and foremost by being part of their team. When making decisions they prioritise the impact on their team and people in general. They tend to be quieter and more softly spoken than other types and enjoy anecdotes and human stories. Be thorough, courteous and factor in the people priorities and you will increase your chance of engaging Amiables. 

Analyticals are motivated by understanding the details and delivering analysis that is correct.
They like to be thorough and take their time when making decisions to be confident they are right. They like to provide detail first, and then offer the recommendation last. Give sufficient time to think through your analysis before any decision needs to be made to increase your chance of engaging Analyticals.

Drivers are energetic people who like to ‘get things done’. They will prioritise progress over correctness and can often be found in senior levels of organisations. Explain in clear and simple terms how your proposition should be implemented so that it delivers maximum value to the organization to increase your chance of engaging Drivers. 

Expressives enjoy variety and change. These colourful people love new and different things and fast-moving environments. They love innovation and prefer to develop new programs than to manage existing ones. Talk your ideas through in person wherever possible in short, sharp bursts rather than lengthy detailed presentations to increase your chance of engaging Expressives. 

In tomorrow’s email I will give some ideas to help you avoid making your audience do all the work.
In the meantime, download today’s notes and course challenge here. It includes some extra ideas for you too.

Until then,

PS To skip ahead to module 3, click here.

This short, free course is prepared by Davina Stanley, who has spent more than 20 years helping technical experts communicate better. She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company's Hong Kong office as a communication specialist. Having lived and worked in Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo and Melbourne Australia, she is now loving living in Sydney.
Davina offers face to face and online skill building programs for technical experts who need greater cut through in their communication.

Her signature program is the powerful, 3-month Clarity First Group Coaching Program which runs twice each year. 

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