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Leaders, Do You Understand Your Audience?

Tips for resonant, effective communication at every level 

Imagine you’re a senior leader giving a presentation about your organization's performance this quarter. Your peers, your CEO, and a few members of the global leadership team are in the room. Just as you’re sharing one of your team’s greatest successes, one of those global leaders picks up his phone and starts scrolling. He never looks up again. 


After the meeting, you seek feedback from your peers and direct manager. You discover that while your presentation was a solid representation of your team’s growth and successes, you spent too much time “in the weeds” for those in attendance.  


They needed a high-level picture of what your team contributed to the broader organization’s goals, and you spent a lot of time drilling down on tactical execution. In other words, it wasn’t a bad presentation—it just wasn’t the right one for your audience. 


Throughout my career, I've had opportunities to improve and reflect on communication's pivotal role in successful leadership. We often forget that our communication is only as effective as understanding our audience’s needs and expectations. 


This doesn’t mean that leaders should drastically alter the content or the manner of speaking, but we should consider the perspective and priorities of our leaders, peers, and direct reports. 


 This has been a common topic of discussion in my work with my clients, and especially lately, I’ve been reflecting on how senior leaders can connect with others authentically and effectively at every level of an organization.  


Understanding Your Audience 


At the heart of effective communication lies a deep understanding of the audience receiving that communication. Just as a savvy marketer meticulously analyzes consumer demographics, leaders must discern the unique characteristics and preferences of their team members, peers, and stakeholders.  


It’s essential to recognize that individuals vary in communication styles, motivations, and expectations. By tailoring messages to resonate with the personalities and perspectives present, you can cultivate an environment conducive to engagement and collaboration. In my earlier example, that means ensuring clarity on the priorities and desired takeaways for your stakeholders and senior executives before the meeting. Your priorities and needs may vary even if you’re aligned with the organization’s goals. And if you only have an hour of their time, you must consider how best to engage them. 


In my experience, the most effective leaders also invest time getting to know their team members. They recognize that different individuals respond differently to various communication approaches. For instance, while some team members may appreciate direct and concise communication, others may prefer a more conversational and empathetic style.  


By adapting their communication approach to suit the preferences of their audience, senior leaders can foster stronger relationships, build trust, enhance overall team effectiveness, and communicate more effectively with their stakeholders. 


Speaking in a Way that Resonates 


Crafting messages that resonate with one's audience is an art form that distinguishes exceptional leaders. When you’re trying to hold the attention of a global leader or another critical stakeholder, this means understanding their priorities. In the example scenario I gave, that means understanding what truly matters to someone focused on your organization's global vision and speaking to engage their interest in enterprise strategy.  


Pay careful attention to how you deliver your message. Some leaders may appreciate anecdotes or other storytelling techniques to convey complex ideas, while others prefer quick bullet points. Learn their preferences by checking with others who have successfully presented to them. However you do it, communicate with authenticity and honor your core values. Tailoring your message to your audience doesn't mean stepping away from who you are and what you believe. 


Whether sharing successes, challenges, or organizational culture, effective leaders understand that nuance and a deep understanding of who they’re speaking to are essential to making their message relatable and impactful.  


Communicating Upward, Specifically 


Effective stakeholder communication requires a nuanced approach that aligns your organization's aspirations with enterprise objectives. Be clear and concise about your work’s connection to the broader strategic context of the enterprise. Even as you share your team's achievements and challenges, present them in a way that connects with your leadership’s strategic priorities.  


In other words, tailor your communication to highlight your team's initiatives' strategic impact and emphasize alignment with enterprise goals and objectives. By demonstrating a keen understanding of the broader business context and articulating the value proposition of your team's contributions, you can more effectively advocate for your team's resources, support, and even recognition. 


Stay True to Your Core Values 


A common concern I’ve heard from leaders as they work with different audiences is the perceived tension between authenticity and adaptability in communication. In the end, you shouldn’t compromise your values or your authenticity in your efforts to tailor your communication to different audiences. If you choose to adapt your communication, do so in a way that fosters trust, increases your credibility, and still resonates with your values, beliefs, and intentions.  


Leaders who prioritize authenticity in their communication understand that it's about more than words; it's about aligning their actions with their values and leading by example. Strive to cultivate an open and transparent communication culture within your team and with your leaders. You can inspire loyalty, foster collaboration, and cultivate a positive organizational culture by modeling authenticity and integrity in your communications. 


Effective communication requires empathy, adaptability, and authenticity. By focusing on understanding your audience’s needs and tailoring your communication to align with their priorities, your message will resonate with both your direct team and your stakeholders. 




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