Know Your Audience


In my previous blog entry I wrote about "soft skills" every young engineer needs to develop if they want to stand out in their career: speaking in front of an audience, writing clearly and effectively, developing a sense of design, and learning how to tell a story.

I want to follow that up with another bit of advice, based on a video my friend John Martinez shared with me a few days ago. That advice is: Know your audience!

Whether you're writing or speaking, you should keep clearly in your mind who you are communicating with. Is it a technical audience? Executives? Students?

In each case you can be talking or writing about the same topic, but you have to adjust your presentation to your audience. A highly technical audience might already know the basics of what you're presenting, and want you to get right to the good stuff. Executives might be less interested in the technical aspects and more interested in the business angle. Students might be only vaguely familiar with your topic, or not familiar at all, and so need some background.

In the video here, Bettina Warburg explains blockchain to five different people: A child, a teenager, a college student, a grad student, and a blockchain expert. Whether you're interested in blockchain or not isn't important here (although she does a great job of describing it). What's important to observe is how she adjusts her description to fit her audience, their capabilities, and their level of interest.

Notice the consistencies in each of the five talks:

  • She knows the technical level of her audience, and adjusts accordingly
  • She never, ever talks down to her audience
  • She doesn't just talk, she listens to her audience

Notice also that as the technical expertise of her audience grows, her presentation becomes more of a conversation. She begins using what the audience knows to lead the conversation to a deeper level.

Know who your audience is and what they want to hear, and you can rock your presentations!