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Communications professional,  stakeholder engagement

Adapting your message to your audience

We are doing some renovations at the moment. At the best of times renovations can be stressful. There are a lot of details to work through, and without fail things pop up during the build that you don’t expect.

To add to the complexity of this renovation it is at our house down the coast, so we often aren’t there in person to see what is going on or speak to people in person.

Bathroom reno – week one.

This is not our first reno, my husband and I are in no way “block-style” professionals, but we have picked up a few things over the years. I have tried hard to understand some of the lingo so that when a builder talks to me about arcs, plumb walls or mitred edges, I know what they’re on about.

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how challenging it is to communicate with some of my trades. I feel like I am a relatively smart person, but a lot of the time they might as well be talking in another language. I am sure it goes both ways, sometimes when I ask a question or make a request I can see on their face, they have no idea what I am on about.

This made me stop and reflect on how challenging any communications can be. You may have a huge amount of knowledge about a subject, but unless you can explain it in a way that your audience understands it will not be effective. Everyone interprets information differently, and this can mean you know what you’re on about, but the ‘receiver’ has no idea. This is articulated in the Shannon Weaver communications model.

Shannon Weaver communications model.

As the customer, I expect a concept can be explained to me in a way that allows me to make an informed decision, but this is often not the case. This expectations isn’t specific to building works (or just me), this the case with anyone trying to receive information.

Take the example of a member of the public who is trying to get information from a government department. If the information they find on a website is not written in their language or in a way they would look for it this will be frustrating. They are more likely to disengage, not complete a form correctly, or email your agency rather than complete the process themselves.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw.

If you can see (or hear) your audience does not understanding what you are trying to say, rather than getting frustrated think about how you can reframe your message.

  • What does this audience know?
  • What is their level of understanding?
  • What language do they use?
  • What is their frame of reference? Is there a comparison or analogy you can make?
  • What noise is in their environment? What else are they hearing that will distort or change your message?

As a communications professional, you can have the most perfectly developed messages but unless you are able to adapt them to suit your audience they will be useless.

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