Explaining an issue from a target's perspective, not yours

October 2, 2009

scratching_headA problem that often arises when an expert needs to explain an issue to their target – be it a policy-maker, influencer or a member of the general public – is that the expert develops their approach from their own perspective, rather than that of the target. Policy-makers are asked to make decisions based on a ten-minute minute meeting, or more likely, ten-minute briefings based on research conducted in twenty minutes by their assistants, and yet experts come at them with key messages and the like thought up by a room-full of know-it-alls.

It’s far more effective to work backwards and start from the target’s perspective. Ask yourself, first, what are the basics that my target doesn’t understand, and second, what questions are they most likely to have. If you don’t know, conduct a poll amongst friends and colleagues who don’t know your issue and ask them what their layman’s perspective is. Only once you’ve dealt with that, start imparting your expertise.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t often happen in Brussels: it’s where the policy-buff and communicator conflict I often write about comes into play. At company, association and especially agency level, most of the people tasked with communicating an issue are into the policy bit – which is fine (and necessary) – but they’re not really into the communications bit. Result? In the end, output that is probably very good, but doesn’t do a jot to win over the target of their communications because it hasn’t explained the basics before veering into high-brow.

Image source.

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