Make your voice heard
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Get to know your reader

Nice to meet you

Don’t start typing just yet!

It doesn’t matter whether it’s an email to motivate your staff, an academic essay or an ad showing off your record sales, knowing your audience is crucial each time you write. It helps keep your messages relevant

Have you identified your audience – the person or people who’ll be reading your piece of communication? And how well do you know them?

It doesn’t matter whether it’s an email to motivate your staff, an academic essay or an ad showing off your record sales, knowing your audience is crucial each time you write. It helps keep your messages relevant.

First, who is your reader?

  • A colleague
  • Clients
  • Potential clients
  • A friend
  • A manager
  • Staff
  • A supplier

While you may not need to know them ‘intimately’, it may also help to know their approximate age, location, profession and any other relevant background information.

Why?

Your audience will shape what you write and how you write it.

What you write

What does your reader know, and what do they need to know? We know less is often more, so aim to include just the right amount of information – not too much background, but enough to make sure your reader is informed and knows what to do next.

How you write

Your language – the words you use – depends on who you’re writing for, why you’re writing it (objective), and where it will be read (email, blog, essay, sales letter).

Will your reader be sensitive to the issue you’re writing about?

Will they understand any technical language or jargon?

Is it an older audience expecting a more formal tone? Or are you looking to make an impact on an iGen reader?

Before committing to a particular style, be sure your reader won’t:

  • be offended by the tone you’re taking
  • be excluded because they don’t know what your technical terms mean, or
  • become so bored they switch off.

Use a tone you know will appeal to your audience.

Example

Think about how you’d write an email to your team (or a friend) about the imminent launch of the company’s new website. You might mention it’s a big improvement (eg, no more typos or getting lost in the maze of information), where they need to direct existing clients and that they should send every potential client to the new site. It might be motivational, even a little light-hearted.

Next, think about how you’d write the email to your existing or prospective clients. It’s likely the two emails would completely differ in terms of tone and how you structure them.

How to get to know your audience

Of course it depends on who your reader is, but here are a few questions to ask yourself – and, if feasible, your reader.

  • Background: It could be relevant to learn about your reader’s demographics so you can tailor your language and content towards their preferences. You could find out their age, location, profession, income, level of education.
  • Wants: Clarify (or ask) what your audience wants – use a survey, write an email, pick up the phone. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your blog readership, CEO or commanding officer, asking intelligent questions not only keeps your name or brand top of mind, it shows you really are interested in providing the best information or solution possible.
  • Needs: What does your audience need? What do they value? What do they already know? What is most important to them, and what isn’t?
  • Your objective: What do you want your audience to think or learn about you? What do you want to achieve – what do you want your audience to do?

How to captivate your reader

Once you know and understand your audience, you can craft a message that not only has impact, but makes the reader feel it has been tailored to their specific needs.

Speak to them

To engage your reader, you need to connect with them. Which means you need to speak to them. You’re not writing for your benefit. You’re writing for your reader’s benefit. So let them know that. Speak to them by using words such as you, your and you’re – and language you know they’ll relate to.

It might also be appropriate to include your reader’s name within the communications item.

What do they know?

Refer to things you know your reader knows. For example, that without your expertise, sales could drop even further or the problematic marketing strategy could be rectified with X, Y, Z.

How will they benefit?

Let your reader know they can benefit from your expertise. Tell them how accepting your proposal will improve productivity or how profits will increase when they accept your recommendation to scrap the stalled project. This leads in to that all-important aspect of writing: the benefit – which we’ll look at another time.

For now though, slip into your reader’s shoes, and give them what they need and want.

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