Think of the audience

June 28, 2018

I have seen too many talks by engineers where they design something, in my case some kind of software infrastructure for use by other developers (e.g. fraud, authentication, search), and are asked to present it so other can use it. They assume that since the audience is fairly technical, they should go into details of how it works, the challenges they faced building it, etc.

The thing is, I don't care.

If you want to give a talk for yourself, go ahead and get into your incredible journey. But if you want to drive adoption, get people to use something, the #1 thing you must explain is, "How do I use it?". As a user of this thing, how do I get started with it? What is the first concrete step toward using it? I want that first.

So, a note for engineers (including myself): explain how to use it first, and only later get into how it works, if you do at all.

But this illustrates a more general point about communication. I used to write these huge long emails. My friend, who'd been to journalism school, ridiculed me, saying, "always think of your audience first". This is great advice for communication in general, but especially for persuasive communication, when you're trying to get someone to do something (use something, buy, vote).

In this case: keep email short. It's going to get read on a mobile device, people are too busy to read things carefully, etc. It sucks but it's reality.

Putting the audience first is harder than it seems. Makers (e.g. software people) love to talk about their work, to the point of self-indulgence. It requires a conscious choice to say, "Yes, I want to talk about X, but my audience wants Y, so I'm going to talk about Y".

Self-indulgence feels good; serving others wins deals.

← Previous