Knowing Your Audience in the YouTube Era

A few months ago, when Senator John Kerry was in Pakistan to push for the release of CIA agent Raymond Davis, he held a Q&A with local media in Lahore. You can hear by the questions that the local journalists are not at all fluent in English. So when I watch the back and forth, I’m struck by the complexity of Kerry’s sentences and vocabulary.

Kerry doesn’t seem to be making an attempt to speak in clear, short sentences that the folks in the room would understand. Instead, he offers circular answers with words like “consternation” and “signatory”:

“Sometimes, to the consternation of many of us…”
“Your government is a signatory to that”
“We don’t want this relationship to come into a difficult situation because we’re unable to find reasonableness.”

What’s going on? Is John Kerry trying to communicate with the people asking him questions? If so, he’s not doing a very good job. He has forgotten to simplify his language to fit the audience. He doesn’t “know his audience.”

But perhaps he does know his audience — it’s just that the audience is not the local media assembled in the room. The audience consists of all the people who will be reviewing video footage of the exchange, including English-fluent decision makers in Pakistan and policy makers in U.S.

Jay Leno — and all TV stars who perform in front of a live audience and the cameras — know this concept well. The physical audience in Leno’s studio in Los Angeles is not the audience that counts. His real audience is middle America watching at home on TV, and he tailors his jokes appropriately. I know corporate executives who do as Leno does. They go give a talk in front of 50 people, videotape it, and then email it out to 1,000 clients. Their audience isn’t the 50 people who hear the speech live — it’s the 1,000 clients who watch it on YouTube.

Bottom Line: “Know your audience” is an axiom of public speaking and communication. But most advice on this front assumes your audience is whoever is in the room listening live. In an era of cameras and YouTube, your audience rarely consists only of the people listening to you live. Usually there will be (or can be) a YouTube audience as well. Communication strategy ought to account for this now-obvious but sometimes still overlooked reality.

6 comments on “Knowing Your Audience in the YouTube Era
  • Hi Ben,

    Very good post.

    It got me thinking about Lula, brazilian former president.

    He was always talking to his audience, the people.

    He could be in the US, in Europe, but always talked like he was in front of an auto industry in Sao Paulo šŸ™‚

    It worked quite well.

    Thanks, Miguel

  • Up until a few years back, best speakers salvaged their reputation by talking `about’ the audience and they’d listen for hours.

    YouTube has ruined it all…!!!

  • Certainly Senator Kerry is aware of the larger audience tuning in to his remarks.

    As a youth, I was trained in the art of elocution by Bible-thumping racists who believed the theory of evolution was Satan’s own handiwork and that humans were contemporaries of the dinosaurs.

    My first public speaking assignment was to address the congregation on the subject of evolution. I had impishly chosen this topic because I was a nascent infidel who believed in evolution.

    It was also the first time this budding Ingersoll got to practice the diplomatic art of obfuscation on a sizable audience.

    I used a lot of ten-dollar polysyllabic words and threw in some Latin nomenclature to deliver a robust defense of evolution.

    It was a bit depressing to look out from the lectern at a sea of attentive, but uncomprehending faces, and at the end, to be applauded roundly.

    The only thing that kept me from launching into a tirade of bottomless scorn for these anti-intellectual Philistines was a mental image of the Holy penis of God suddenly appearing from between the closed curtains of the baptistery behind me and pissing on my head in a glorious golden shower.

    I’m sure it was Divine inspiration. I could almost hear an angelic choir belting out Sympathy for the Devil.;-)

  • There is no need to EVER say “Your government is a signatory to that”. Politicians try to substitute style for substance. You are spot on – know your audience – not who you imagine your audience is or who you want them to be.

  • Regarding Thomas Friedman’s data-free assertions about globalization and a “flat earth”, what little Eric Blair (George Orwell) told Jacintha Buddicom when she found him standing on his head in a field is fitting: “You are noticed more if you stand on your head than if you are right way up.”

    If Richard Nixon had really been prescient about “the need for the United States to beat the competition in a world transformed”, he should have sent Henry Kissinger to make a deal with Indira Ghandi.

    It was a bad move in the geostrategy of our Grand Chess Game to send Kissinger on his secret embassy to make romantic overtures to Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai.

    This twaddle about “lifting millions out of poverty” is a red herring. We succeeded in awakening and enabling the sleeping Red Dragon of repressive dictatorship and disregard for basic human rights, while teeming millions in our own sphere of influence still grind on in crushing poverty.

    Meanwhile a resurgent China colonizes Africa and Latin America, not to mention the United States itself.

  • That was really gold mine article. Strategics for starting an online business is vital for planning and the outcome of your dream business specially in customer psychology. Got a handful of tips and learning here. Now its time for applied learning.

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