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Audience Assumptions

by Randall Craig on January 24, 2012

Filed in: Blog, Blogging, Communication, Global Business, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Presentations, Social Media

Tagged as: , , ,

My recent trip to India has once again sensitized me to an assumption that writers and speakers too often make:  that everyone understands what you mean to say.

Test yourself – what do the following three words mean?  Flyover, Subway, and Removalist.

If you are in India, a Flyover is a local bridge that “flies over local traffic”; elsewhere, it has something to do with airplanes.  In much of the world, a Subway is a road or pedestrian path that goes underneath another road; in Toronto a Subway refers to the Metro.  In Australia, a Removalist is someone who transports your possessions when you move houses; elsewhere this person is called a house mover.

When the mother tongue of the audience isn’t English, the problem intensifies.

Before delivering a critical presentation or posting a widely read blog or Twitter post, answer the following questions about your audience:

  • What is your audience’s English comprehension level?  Do you need to do part of your presentation in their language?  Or at least open with a local phrase?  I give a number of suggestions to address the issue in this Tipsheet.
  • Which English do they know? (American, British, Canadian, Indian, Australian, Hong Kong, etc) Does it make sense to test your content with a smaller group first?
  • Can you use local examples to help them better relate?  Or is it better to keep with universal principles – lowest common denominator – to avoid making an embarrassing mistake.

One of the most important reasons for a Social Media strategy is that it helps define your target audiences, and  lets you focus the version of your language squarely on this target.  Without a strategy, it will become increasingly difficult to use the “right” language to have an impact.

This week’s action plan: Whether you have a strategy or not, spend a few minutes defining your primary audience – then review your last few status updates, blog posts, or videos to see if they are using the “right” language to make an impact.  And when you are doing that critical presentation, remember that comprehension is in the mind of the audience, not the mouth of presenter.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

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Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at and

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