done the necessary research, formulated a sensible proposal and even rewritten
the final draft for your presentation at tomorrow's staff meeting. The only factor
you failed to consider is one of the most important components of the communication
process: knowing "to whom it may concern."
How many countless documents have crossed your desk that left
you scratching your head with their redundant remarks, incomplete
ideas or unclear instructions? I call these "so-what" messages
because your likely response to them is, "so what?" Are you
to write a report, hold a meeting, propose a solution or file
the information for later use?
Whether it's a presentation to your peers, a memo to your
staff, or an e-mail to an associate, it's not always what
you say or how you say it, but how you connect to your audience
that will determine the success of your messages.
Who is your audience?
Are you communicating to an entire client organization, an
average-sized department or a few colleagues? Are they decision
makers, managers or those with only veto power? Is their relationship
to you that of a supervisor, a peer or a subordinate?
More often than not, your writing will go through several
people – either for approval or general information. When
writing to a mixed audience, first rank readers in importance.
After you've pinpointed and ranked each reader or group of
readers, give the most important readers their information
Knowing your audience will help you streamline your research,
shape your key message, select the most appropriate details
and adapt your words more appropriately.
What are their interests?
Part of knowing "to whom it may concern" is knowing their
concerns, biases and backgrounds.
Vocabularies, areas of expertise, even mindsets differ as
you move across company hierarchies, as well as up and down
them. What is of little concern to a CEO may hold greater
interest to a sales manager and be of extreme importance to
a marketing director.
most likely be concerned with issues regarding profit projections, a project's
overall significance to the company, corporate image concerns and necessary
next steps in planning.
will be more concerned with the day-to-day issues – why a project is undertaken,
how the research is carried out, how the policy will be reevaluated and what
specific part they'll play.
will be more interested in information required to do a specific job
such as statistics, forms, flow charts, maps, formulas and other things generally
included in the "fine print."
Make your readers' interests a priority and you'll grab and keep their attention.
How much do they already know about the subject?
Instead of reiterating the obvious, be sure you don't overload others with meaningless
or repetitive detail. But be sure you give enough background on the problem
so they fully understand the situation.
While your primary audience may understand all the concepts and terms, your
secondary readers may need more detail because of their lack of involvement.
And avoid using jargon for those readers outside your narrow field. Outside
a narrow niche of readers, jargon courts misunderstanding. How much your readers
know dictates how much detail and what detail to include in
which sections of your document.
So what's the answer to the dilemma when communicating with multiple readers
who have varied interests, backgrounds and technical expertise? Structure. Put
your most important information to your most important reader up front. Lesser-ranking
readers will need to read further to get the details they want.
How will they use your information?
Delivering a specific point in your document is your responsibility.
Do you expect your readers to consider, discuss, act on, research or instruct
others? The answer to this question will help you decide whether to write, phone
or meet face-to-face.
If your oral presentation or document is meant to keep them informed on new
advances in their field, give a broad scope of the discovery and zero in on
its significance for other projects and decisions. If you want them to duplicate
or build on your work, give them direction – all the if's, and's, what's and
how's. If they're to use your information as the basis for a decision, present
your case persuasively to win their cooperation.
Identify the "to whom it may concern" of your documents and oral presentations
and customize your intentions and details accordingly.
About Dianna Booher
Dianna Booher is CEO of Booher Consultants, a Dallas-based communications firm.
Her programs include communication (writing, oral presentations, interpersonal,
customer service communications, gender, listening, meetings, conflict) and
life balance/productivity. She has published 39 books, including E-Writing:
21st-Century Tools for Effective Communication (Pocket Books, February 2001),
Communicate with Confidence! (McGraw-Hill), and The Worth of a Woman's Words
(Nelson-Word). Several have been major Book Club selections. Call 817.868.1200;