Wait, Back Up

One common mistake we make as communicators is forgetting our audience’s context. As we dive full steam into our idea, our audience is still back at the station, trying to figure out which way our train’s going.

While you might have been fully immersed in your idea for days (or years), your audience might be hearing it for the very first time.

One great lesson I learned as a Toastmaster was the importance of considering newcomers. Toastmasters is a club that meets weekly to practice leadership and communication. The flow of each meeting is essentially identical to the previous, with various members sharing specific types of speeches throughout the meeting. Long-time members were very familiar with each segment of each meeting. Regardless of their familiarity, we stressed the importance of explaining each segment so that visitors to the club would understand what was going on. (This kind of introduction also provided an important reminder to older members).

TV shows focus on welcoming new viewers as well. Jimmy Fallon’s Hashtags or Thank You Notes segment intros on The Tonight Show are identical every time. Interestingly, the slight variations in the intro become part of the humour for long-time fans, while also bringing new viewers into the show.

In a recent podcast, Todd Henry shared a great thought about this:

Impact starts with empathy.

(Actually the whole episode focused on this idea, you should listen to the whole thing).

Many ideas fail to resonate with people, not because they’re inherently bad ideas, but because the communicator hasn’t considered his audience’s context.

When you have a great idea to share, take a deep breath, back up, and start at the beginning.