The Biggest Storytelling Secret? Know Your Audience.

Storytelling is communication, born of our innate desire for security and belonging by virtue of a connection. For more on this, see my previous post ‘Stories – Why do we tell them?’. Your narrative is a debate, an argument, and it should seek to gather people to its cause. Think of your set-up as your proposition, your conflict as your deliberation and your resolution as your conclusion. Your job is to present your perspective with firm but fair conviction and, to avoid confusion, with efficient clarity.  

Successful communication demands more than simply forming our words or ideas clearly. It also requires that we listen and implement or incorporate what we have learned through this listening, so that we may form our words or ideas in a way that they can be easily comprehended, utilising compassion and good rapport.

It would make sense then, that we should have more chance of effectively getting through to someone if we first identify something about them and adapt the way we express ourselves accordingly. For instance, if we are talking to a young child we might omit certain words if we know, or at least deduce, that they are unlikely to have learned the meaning of them yet. On the flip side, based on our interactions with the child we may decide that they are ready to accept a few new words and so we might look for an accessible way to teach them. A measured approach is key, because how we choose to communicate with the child will ultimately have an effect on how they engage with us.

Communication requires a level of receptivity or openness, the best debates involving both parties being interested and in equal participation. All audiences have one thing in common: they wish to be active in the conversation. They would rather work for their supper than be spoon-fed and the simple explanation here is that spoon-feeding rarely takes their perspective into account. They want to be allowed to lift the spoon to their mouths independently, even if you’ve loaded it for them.

If you write with your audience in mind, you’ll speak to them by knowing  when and how to reveal things in order to establish a connection. You will be able to understand how hungry they are, how much they can manage in a bite and know when their belly is full. If you get the balance right they will feel represented, understood and leave the conversation satisfied whether their mind has been changed or not.

Determining your audience involves research, seasoned with conscious and unconscious judgements and stereotypes. Now, these words have negative connotations but they need not. Here’s where we channel Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, depending on your moustache preference. It’s our task to look for evidence, clues and likelihoods and combine them to solve the mystery of who will be sat around our table. Once we’ve profiled our guests with analogue algorithms, we must make like Don Draper and figure out their tastes so we can appeal to them. As a result, there’s more chance they’ll swallow what we’re serving up.

Successful creatives don’t skip this strategic part of the process, in fact they place a high value on it. It may feel like selling out, but this is not Iggy Pop peddling insurance, we’re merely upping our chances of gaining a platform if we know which direction we should be going in. Communication is a two-way street signposted ’empathy’ and we must meet our audience in the middle. It can be a broad or narrow street but so long as we find its centre, we’ll wind up at our desired destination.





Words (c) Rebecca Innes 2017
Image (c) Stephanie Zieber 2014

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