Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's Not Theater, But You Still Have to Play to Your Audience

Your readers open your email, pick up your report, open your correspondence. Why should they read it? Why would they want to read it? They will, but only if you adapt your message so they can relate to it, understand it, and remember it.

Pretend your readers are sitting across from you while you read your writing out loud. How will they react? What questions might they ask?

"Why should we pay attention? Why should we care?

"You're tip-toeing. Please get to the point. I'm busy."

"What's in it for me, us?"

"How does this affect me, my world, the business?"

"Your recommendation makes sense, but what's wrong with the way we're doing things now?"

"Okay, now what? What does all this mean? What happens next?"

Again, visualize your readers and think about what you are setting out to do. Will your purpose make sense to them, help them, alarm them, anger them? Try to anticipate probable questions and concerns. Now think about your readers one more time:

How much do they know, or need to know, about your subject? What information must you include? What can you omit? Decide what terminology or vocabulary is appropriate for this audience. If there is a universal fault in business writing, it is this: too many memos, emails, letters, reports and proposals are written in jargon that most readers don't understand.

How should you adapt your message to your readers' professional frame of reference? People in marketing or finance do not look at office issues and events the same way as someone in customer service or manufacturing.

Also, how might your readers' responsibilities and current priorities affect the way they will react to your purpose? People often react to situations in light of what's expected of them. Managers react as managers, administrators as administrators, etc.

When people read, they usually look for the who, what, why, where, when and how of a given situation. Which ones apply to yours?

Finally, analyzing your audience does not mean that you must set out to please everybody. You have a purpose, but it will never materialize if you neglect to give readers a solid reason to read and act upon what you are writing. Remember, readers are not obligated to read what we write.


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