I could be wrong, but I might already figured out the secret to post-grad success. And the more I think about this secret I’ve unlocked, the more I realize just how applicable it is to any job and every facet of everyday life. Articulated in just three words, it’s simultaneously simple and complicated. Are you ready for it? Here it is:
Know your audience.
I wasn’t a complete stranger to the concept of audience before figuring this out. In every rhetoric or composition class I’ve ever taken, audience has always been an integral aspect to consider when setting up and presenting an argument. In every article I write, I have to think about who my reader is and what I want to tell them. Being able to convince an audience of your credibility or the validity of your opinion rests on your understanding of who the audience members are and where their interests lie. If you’re going to give a talk on steak’s nutritional benefits to a room full of vegans, it’s still possible to have a well-executed presentation and have your information stick in their brain — you just need to think more strategically. If you don’t, you can’t even begin to chip away at their guard.
Thinking about your audience also unfolds many other things for you to consider that can help you frame your argument. What context is this interaction taking place in? What is acceptable behavior? What’s the current political or cultural climate? The list of questions can go on and on, and operate on many levels. For example, think back to your teenage years. If you wanted to ask your mom if you could go out with your friends or if she would buy you something, you had to make an assessment before figuring out how you were going to do it. Was she in a good mood? Had she spent a lot of money on you you lately? Had you done anything bad recently? What could you do to make the conditions just right for the answer to be yes?
At my full-time gig working at my alma mater, pausing and thinking about my audience has also been the best way to keep me from going too far inside my own head. When you’re a professional and you know your stuff, it is so easy to get into the weeds of your project. There’s a time and a place for that, and remembering what your audience needs helps to decide that time and place.
The students I work with and for are really just interested in getting information that’s immediately accessible and easy to understand. They don’t like reading big paragraphs of text, and they don’t like a stuffy administrative voice. I can be creative about the ways I present that information, but remembering what they want and need pulls me in the right directions for what language I should use, details I need to include or channel I can post on. People can also be part of multiple audiences, and I have to take that into consideration — the students who need the information may be first-time college students, or speak English as a second language.
At the same time, I also have to consider the faculty and staff that are also stakeholders in what we’re doing. There are layers and layers of discourse all occurring simultaneously, and remembering what my main purpose is — to help students have great college experiences — helps me navigate them. Dreaming up lofty ideas and making extremely creative content are fun brain exercises and I like to do both, but ultimately I have to remember what the purpose of my work is and dial forward or back accordingly.
Once you start thinking about your audience in a mindful and deliberate way, you’ll notice that the same strategies can work in other areas of your life beyond the office or the classroom. Your own wants and needs as a multiple-audience member are still important, but you’ll figure out how to fulfill them without stepping on the wants and needs of others. Keeping the know your audience mantra at the front of my mind has given me so much perspective on how the world at-large works, and I hope it does the same for you.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.