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Capacity and the Importance of Understanding Your Audience


Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of being on stages all over the world and talking to people of all industries, companies, ages, sexes, and backgrounds. While the audience changes each time, a lot of the key messaging is the same. With the messaging being the same though, and the audience varying significantly, the delivery has to be catered specifically to those who are receiving the message.

Now, this might seem obvious and intuitive, but what I learned is that after speaking about the future of work and multiple generations in the workplace for so long, that my jargon was difficult to understand and that my message was flying over the heads of the people that are listening.

What this told me is that the capacity of the audience has to be understood and catered to in order for the message to resonate. If we talk in terms and depth that people aren’t familiar with, or in a way people aren’t interested in, not only is the value not transferred to its full potential, it is missed all together. This can’t happen.

To be clear though, when we talk about the capacity of the audience, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of hearing and understanding the information, it just might be that I haven’t introduced the idea properly or educated them enough on what I’m going to talk about.

To fix this, there are two basic, yet essential actions that I did to mitigate lost opportunities moving forward.

  1. Explain what I’m doing to someone that is under the age of 15. Einstein was quoted saying “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself”. Any time I’m out of practice, I simply run my idea by someone who is way younger to see what questions come up.
  2. I look back on the questions I had from my last presentation and answer them before the questions come up. Sometimes I think I have covered something thoroughly only to realize there are a series of questions asked on the same topic. Once the presentation is over, I’ll write down the questions I was asked and be sure to incorporate them into my next talk or article.

If my message is clear and I can anticipate some of the questions that are coming, I can keep an engaged audience and ensure that my message is fully received.

A common analogy is the tech world (specifically computers). If I were to talk about the amount of RAM I have, how many GB of storage, and how many HDMI/USB-C ports there are, I might have lost you. Instead, if I were to define what each of these things were before starting the presentation, and ensuring that we are all on the same page before starting the presentation, I know that I wouldn’t get a room of blank stares looking back at me.

As I now prepare for my next presentation, I’m sure that my message isn’t too complicated, and that any questions that may come up are answered in the content of my article or speech. Give this a try and watch how positively your audience reacts!

Any questions? If I’ve written this well, the answer should be no.

General Motors

One day when I was about five years old I was out at my grandparents house talking, like most confident and educated five year olds, about what I wanted to be when I grew up. My grandparents were essential in the upbringing of both my brother and myself and they house was almost a second home to us.

When we’re young, there are a few options for careers, most of which are career options in the family board game, LIFE: An athlete, doctor, teacher, police officer, lawyer, firefighter, businessperson or whatever our parents were. So, naturally when I was asked, I picked one of the only careers that existed and said that I was going to a businessperson and wear a suit to work every day and make lots of money. I then asked him what I could actually do as a businessperson and what it looked like. That is when my Grandfather gave me some advice I’ll never forget. He said:

“The President of GM doesn’t need to know how to drive a car, he just needs to know how to manage the people that know how to drive a car.”

As a young person, as well as the individual I am today, this wisdom hit me hard. What he was telling me is that when it comes to the business world and outside, it was the relationships with people that matted more than anything else when it comes to leadership and management.

Putting this into practice today, it seems as though this statement holds true. There are plenty of CFO’s, engineers, analysts, and so on, but it is the manager, or better yet, the leader that empowers their team to be the best they can be that will have a team that emerges ahead of the pack. The importance of the assembly of the team can’t be undermined though, and the visionary skills and true understanding of the business can’t be compromised. That’s said though, if the right pieces of the puzzle are in place and the optimal team is assembled, there won’t be anything that gets in the way of the team.

Outside of the business world though, the same theories hold true. People love to feel like they are making a difference. A team of basketball players all contribute to get the pall down the court, and it takes 11 members of a football team to march the ball down the field, even if there is only one person that ever throws the ball and two people that will touch the ball in any given play. Without the other nine though, progress isn’t made and the quarterback will likely be sacked long before getting past the line of scrimmage.

In business, school, and friendship, understanding people, what they like, and how to get the most out of the skills they bring to the table and the values they have is second to none. If everyone on the team knows their place and knows how they are valued and what it takes to contribute, the team will function that much better. Friendship, leadership, and teamwork all require a similar skillset to really optimize. People need to be a part of the equation, regardless of who drives the car off the lot at the end of the day.

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