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Getting Below the Surface – Learn What Really Matters to Your Audience


An attorney friend of mine was telling me about jury selection on one of his cases.  He’s a prosecutor here in the Atlanta metro area and was trying a gang related case.  One of the people he let on the jury was a mother who had sons that had become involved with gangs.  “They finally grew out of it and got their acts together,” according to mom.

“Why would the defense attorney let her on the jury?” he asked me, dumbfounded.

“Well, maybe he thinks that she’ll be sympathetic to his client the gang member,” I replied.

He continued, “But you have to go deeper than what’s on the surface.  I asked her, ‘That’s not the way you raised them, is it?’ and she said, ‘No sir, it’s not.’  She was the one up waiting up at night when they didn’t come home.  She was the one whose stomach sank every time the phone rang.  How could the defense attorney not see that?”

When we have a high stakes message to deliver, we too need to dig deeper than what’s on the surface with our audiences.  Using stereotypes about a profession or a business without really taking time to talk the people involved hurts your ability to connect with your audience and communicate your important message.

Find the Answers

Find the answers to questions such as:

How do they see themselves?

Victim?  Hero?  Apprehensive?  Threatened?  Ashamed?  Proud?

What motivates them?

Are they living paycheck to paycheck?  Worried about reelection?  Miserable with life?  Happy to be alive?  Anxious about losing their job?

What’s their current view on the topic that you’re speaking on?

Positive, negative, uncommitted?  Hostile?  Ambivalent?

Why should they care?

What are the logical reasons why your topic is important to them?  What are emotional appeals that will motivate them regarding your topic?  How will your perspective differ?  What can you agree on?  What’s in it for them?

Ask the Questions

When I first got into the IT industry, I expected to work with the stereotypical geeks.  What I found was very different.  The people I worked with were passionate about their work, they were fun to be around and they were smart about technology, business and life.  One of things that surprised me the most was how creative the technologists were in solving problems.  They came up creative solutions to meet their goals.  If I’d never worked in the IT industry, I might have gone on thinking that they were geeks with pocket protectors.  It’s amazing what talking to real people will do to open your eyes to how much alike we are and what is really motivating us below the surface.

Meet Before You Speak

Get to know members of your audiences as people.  You likely can’t interview them all.  But interview a random sampling and find out what stereotypes you can topple.

Don’t just look at the surface.  Know what keeps them up at night.  Know what makes their stomach sink when they hear.  Then you’ll be able to really connect to them as people.

What Questions Do You Ask?

What questions do you ask to get below the surface with your audiences?  Share how you dig down in the comment section!