The first step in effective communication is knowing who your audience is, understanding what they care about, and connecting with them in their own language. Simple enough. But why?
A clean tech entrepreneur I worked with had this problem: he was so in love with his own idea he couldn't see anyone else but him. Our early exchanges went like this:
Who's your target market? I asked.
--Anyone who runs a business would benefit from our product, he said.
What market do you want to enter first?
--It doesn't matter. We've got huge growth potential.
Mmm. Okay. Which potential customers have you approached?
--I'm working within my own network.
And who do you want to reach?
--Qualified customers for our product.
I see. So what would you like me to help you with, specifically?
--I've got this great idea, but can't seem to connect with people. Which is crazy! Because the potential for this technology is incredible!
People say, if you're talking to "everybody," you're talking to "nobody." So the first step in reaching your audience is knowing who, specifically, you're talking to. Do the research you need to do before you present. Get a clear picture of who's in the room: for a conference--you can identify a prospective attendee you want to inspire to action; for a sales presentation--you can make a picture of your ideal target customer. Making a picture gives you something specific to go after.
Because real individuals have real needs. And if you know what those needs are, you can speak to them directly. Using the example of the entrepreneur above, we worked together to identify gaps in the current market--places his competitors were leaving open. Then we listed the industry segments that could benefit from the entrepreneur's technology, and went after the individual decision makers at companies in those sectors. We crafted qualifying questions that led directly to the value of the new technology, laying the path for a successful sales discussion.
But asking targeted questions isn't enough. It's a conversation. Which means you need to listen to the response, and act upon it. Your client will reveal everything within the first 3 minutes of your interaction. Head off objections before they surface by listening for and using the language of your audience (this is true for your potential customer, your manager, your board). Listen for their key words and use them. Why? Because the audience is giving you the path of least resistance.
Your audience is constantly giving you gifts and letting you know how to connect with it. Take what they offer you, walk with them on their path, and lead them where you want to take them.