Who are you really writing for — your audience … or someone else?
If you ask someone who their audience is for their flyers, brochures, and slide decks, they might look at you exasperated and say, “My audience is … well, my audience!” Sometimes that circular reasoning can show us that there can be a pretty big disconnect between who we WANT to write to and who we ACTUALLY write to.
Let’s say we are super excited about our newest program. We create a properly branded flyer with the right colors, organization fonts, and beautiful photos. However, the information we share is written in legalese, using a tiny font with no white space, and doesn’t include any information a non-expert might need for it to make any sense. Suddenly, the flyer about the community resource fair sounds like a philosophy dissertation (no offense to philosophy dissertations!)
Creating clear communication materials centers the needs of our most important stakeholders: the program participants. The best way to begin creating an equitable landscape is to provide the right information to the right people and avoid putting the additional labor of understanding complex systems on our participants.
How You Can Be a Clear Communication Champion
Here are just a few ways to support putting your audience first:
Listen to the needs of your audience.
Your actual audience can give you your best feedback! Do you have a participant advisory council? Can you hold focus groups with your constituents to learn more about their experiences? Can you observe or track what’s not working? For example, do you get the same questions all the time for something you thought was clearly explained? These are all ways that you can incorporate meaningful feedback into your processes.
Avoid the curse of knowledge.
Knowledge is good, right? How can it be a curse? Well, the curse of knowledge is a psychology principle — basically, it means that it’s really hard to unknow the things you know once you know them. So you might think it is a little rote when you are explaining, let’s say, how to apply for a scholarship to the youth in your program. Maybe you’ve literally done it 100 times in the past month. But that next person who walks up is hearing the information for the first time. It's important to remember that they may not know what FAFSA means, they might be overwhelmed by the content, they might not have any background knowledge. Challenge yourself to view your content through your participants’ lens.
Approach your work with cultural humility.
Culture infuses every aspect of life — our experience of time, interpersonal connections, food, health, language, and so on. We have all seen a website that doesn’t reflect the community it seeks to serve. We have overheard conversations about health that don't take into account the cultural norms or foods that are familiar to the participants. The key here is that we can always learn more — check out CulturallyConnected for a variety of resources around cultural humility in the healthcare sector, and many of these principles can be applied across other fields as well.
Our audiences are complex — but communicating with them doesn’t have to be!