3 tips to communicate tailored to your audience

Nele started six months ago to work as a participation expert within the government. Her task? Convincing colleagues to involve citizens more in infrastructure works.

In her presentation, she shared her views on participation. We read terms like “integrated planning process”, “customised process architecture”, and “creating consideration frameworks”.

“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” admits a participant who is also involved in the project. Participation is not his expertise.

“It’s a language I don’t understand. When I hear terms like that, I shut myself off until it becomes more concrete.

“Really?” Nele asks in amazement. “I just thought I should explain it like this so you would understand.”

Not so.

Do you recognise it?

Lesson 1 of any communications course: keep in mind your target audience.

Sounds logical, but are you doing it? Do you tailor your message to your target audience?  

Many speakers completely miss the mark. The result: the audience drops out, and, as a speaker, you feel there was more to that presentation.  

Fortunately, things can be different.  

First, let’s zoom in on Nele’s message.

One of the participants tells Nele that her proposal still needs to be more specific. And that she should not give a general lecture on participation. Nele thinks this comment is unjustified.

So, what is the project stakeholder looking for? For concrete answers to questions such as:

  • What does participation look like?
  • How much will it cost us extra?
  • Doesn’t this delay the whole process?
  • Why should we do it?
  • Who will do it?

“But I can’t tell you that yet,” Nele intervenes, “because first we have to decide which route to take. The other things will come later.”

As a speaker, you want to tell all about that one topic. You want to be as complete as possible, to be sure not to forget any essential detail.

But your audience has other priorities. And you need to respond to those needs.

How then?

By following these three tips. So that your presentation is completely tailored to your audience.

1. Start from their situation.

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes.

Imagine you are a civil servant responsible for the reconstruction of a crossroad. Do you lie awake over participation? Probably not. You mainly want your new crossroad to be there soon, within the planned budget, on time, and with little resistance from residents.

Ha! There’s a link there to participation. Because participation can help reduce resistance. And those in charge do find that important.

So, start your story with the residents’ resistance and work towards the needs of your audience.

2. Make it concrete.

To understand something, your audience must be able to picture it.

Give an example, something your audience can grasp. Because the “social feature of infrastructure” does not immediately create an image with your audience.

“Yes, but,” intervenes Nele. “We don’t yet have a case to show exactly what that looks like.”

No problem. Take an example from a foreign project where participation has been successfully applied if necessary.

What is especially important is that your audience must first be able to create a mental picture of exactly what you mean.

3. Leave room for feedback.

Provide space to engage in conversation with your audience rather than completely sum up the time you are given to a long monologue.

Do you want their opinion? Then, make that clear already in your intro. And ask concrete questions. But keep an eye on the timing to avoid getting bogged down in an endless discussion.

So, what’s on your mind for your next presentation?

Don’t start filling slides like crazy. First, take some time to think about

  • who your audience is,
  • what their priorities or needs are, and
  • what you expect from them.

That way, the success of your presentation is not a lucky shot but a well-aimed one.


Want to learn more about how to make a real impact with your message to policymakers? Then book our new workshop Science4Policy.