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Crossman’s Crash Course in Audience Engagement: Step Four – Reference

Engaging an audience can require a fairly sophisticated command of language and even competent writers sometimes struggle to create the level of interest that keeps an audience tuned in and turned on.

An important part of the process involves building rapport with your audience. Rapport is about establishing common ground with your reader by showing him or her that you understand their world and can bring value to it. It is the first step in developing a relationship, and this holds true in business as well as in personal situations.

There is no real mystery about developing rapport: when two people have a lot in common they get in sync with each other instinctively and rapport develops quickly. But we don’t always have that luxury when we’re writing for business. You can initiate the process of developing rapport by taking a step into someone else’s world and referencing issues, situations and concepts that are part of the landscape of their lives. We’ve seen how you can do that in writing by showing your audience that you understand their pain.

But you can also extend your connection with your audience on a “big picture” level by lacing your writing with references your audience will understand.

For example: if you know that your audience includes a large number of people who enjoy heli-skiing, you might want to use metaphors and similes that relate to fresh powder rather than library shelves.

Similarly, an audience of athletes might not connect deeply with language that incorporates the comforts of relaxing in front of the TV but they will perk up over the mention of pushing limits, straining muscles, performance, or personal bests.

This is easier when your audience is relatively homogeneous and you know a lot about their interests. It’s much harder when you don’t know much about your audience or they have very little in common.

When relatively little information is available about my intended audience, I fall back on metaphors that have been proven to resonate with almost everyone on the planet. (See Gerald Zaltman’s discussion of the “Seven Giant Metaphors”).

Most people will resonate with writing that speaks of journeys, connections, transformation, balance, containers, resources or control so at the very least, I know I can incorporate one or more of these concepts into my writing with a good chance of engaging my audience, whatever their interests are.

If you’d like to read more about my five steps for engaging an audience, please see the previous blog posts on the importance of “Why”, understanding audience pain and adding an emotional component.

Stay tuned for my next entry in this series, which will look at motivational language patterns. In the meantime, if you have any of your own suggestions for writing to increase audience engagement, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment here!


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