A few weeks ago at the lemur center, I was talking to the maintenance guy, Mark, and one of my leaders, Liz. Mark is from central North Carolina, with the Southern accent to prove it, and Liz is from Eastern Pennsylvania, also with the accent to prove it – y’all versus you’ins. In mid-sentence with Mark, Liz says to me, “You have more of an accent when you talk to him!” Her ears picked up what mine did not, that I adjusted the strength of my Southern twang to my listener. I was a little taken with her forwardness, but Mark had my back and was quick to point out that her accent was the odd one out in this region.
Almost subconsciously, I had adjusted the pitch, tone, word choice and strength of my accent in an effort to ensure my message was easily comprehended by Mark. In that moment, I understood my audience. Good interpretation and communication operates much the same way in any medium. Whether you’re communicating a message through video, photos, social media streams, or live-in-person, good communicators and good interpreters understand the audience they are trying to reach. They also understand the best ways to reach their intended audience and leverage some channels over others. With an understanding of their audience and using the appropriate channels for that audience, they can effectively tailor their message for the most impact.
Interpreting and communicating in the museum begins with understanding the audience for the content. In this I see two positions, who are you targeting and who is attracted. The target audience may not be very specific, but it is important to visualize who you want consuming your content. Presenters at a ScienceOnline session claimed that there is no real “general public” and that when communicators use that term, they really have a type of audience in mind. Think about what image pops into your head when you say “general public.” When I created a few videos for the Duke Lemur Center, I initially thought I was going for general viewers. In retrospect, I had a definite type of viewer in mind: 1) individuals already familiar with the lemur center, 2) some education, enough to know what a lemur is at a basic level, and 3) someone who likes exotic animals. The fact that I produced the films for YouTube precludes some of my audience to individuals having a fast Internet connection. Next, pay attention to who is attracted to your content and message. Ideally, you’ve created targeted content that draws the intended audience, but who else is attracted instead of/besides your target? Get to know your audience. Who is actually visiting the setting, and who is paying attention to the content the museum is pushing? Who do you want to consume your content? You can have many different audiences, too, but have an audience in mind when you create and deliver your content/message. Good communication is about a compelling story and meaningful conversation. Without knowing your audience, it is harder to know what will be compelling and spark dialogue or at least some retention of the information.
Once you understand who your audience is and who you want your audience to be, you can begin to understand what channels most effectively reach that audience. Different types of audiences may utilize different channels to find and consume information and absorb different types of information. Middle aged adults and professionals might use Twitter, while tweens, teens and students use Facebook more. A Twitter campaign might not work well on tweens and teens and a Facebook campaign might not reach as many professionals. Live interpretation – face-to-face interaction – reaches those individuals that have some interest or that like a guided experience. The channels really are endless and many channels reach many audiences.
What do you think about thinking about your audience? Do you have any great examples that you can share about targeting an audience or great ways to get to know your audience? Please share!
Note: Mark and Liz are pseudonyms.