Audience: Your Most Valuable Commodity
Audience: Your Most Valuable Commodity
Mining is the process of extracting minerals, or other geological materials of value from the Earth. It is a complex and highly technical process that requires experience, skill and dexterity. In many ways, good communication is similar. Just like mining, you need to know what you’re working with in order to extract the most out of it.
In communications the ‘what’ is your audience. If you don’t know who you’re talking to, your odds of success are drastically reduced.
If you can only do two things in your next interaction with your audience, make it these: prepare for, and understand your audience. Offering insightful, relevant information to different audiences goes a long way. At PR Associates we have an analysis tool that supports you in navigating, and creating appropriate materials for your audience.
A basic understanding of learning styles goes a long way. Individuals absorb information differently—some of us are visual learners, others retain information better when it’s written or interactive. It’s important to ensure your audience receives their information through multiple channels, so they can choose what’s best for them.
When Things Go Wrong
Knowing your audience is never more important than when working with a small community. Here’s a case study of when things go wrong.
An unprecedented rainfall and subsequent snowmelt mean that a collection pond on the mine site will reach near capacity. The company needs a one-time permit to increase the amount of water discharged into a local lake. The company’s consulting hydrologists prepare a 51-page Water Management Plan and a 21-page Water Discharge Permit Amendment Application, which is circulated to community members for comment. In addition, the Company’s environmental manager and their hydrology consultants also complete a 34-slide PowerPoint presentation, used at the community meetings to explain the reason for the ‘Emergency’ Water Discharge Permit Application. You can see where this is going.
At the first community meeting, after a detailed presentation about hydrological science, a community member stands and asks the hydrologist and his team a simple question: why has the colour of their boiled tea changed since the mine started discharging water into the lake the year before? (The colour of the tea is a traditional measure of water quality—since it had become darker, community members were concerned.) As the hydrologist launches into a complex explanation about total dissolved solids and the impact on water quality, audience members start to become visibly irritated.
So, what’s happening here? Well, if the hydrologist and team had taken time to get to know their audience, primarily comprised of concerned members of the local community, they would have known to keep their explanations simple and to the point. This is not a conference of their peers—these are lay people concerned about the safety of their water supply. While the hydrologist’s team found their scientific reports highly useful, to the community members they were gibberish. Perhaps of even greater concern, they were so complex as to appear they were hiding something.
The answer? Keep it simple. Why has the colour of the tea changed, and is it dangerous to drink?
It’s not about talking down to people—just because they’re not scientists doesn’t mean they can’t grasp what’s happening. Good communicators can distill complex science into logical, understandable facts.
There is nothing more important in communicating science than knowing who you are talking to, and why. Keeping things simple always works. And, if all else fails, read the tea leaves—they’re never wrong.
At PR Associates we are effectively communicating science to clarify complexity, capture imaginations, shift mindsets and move markets.
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