Understanding your audience is essential if you want to write persuasively. So in today’s video we’re going to talk about how to understand and address your audience more effectively.
Really, addressing an audience is something that people aren’t very good at these days. We’re very good at declaring our beliefs, but not at making meaningful connections with an audience.
If you remember from a previous video, when you write rhetorically, you are writing to get someone on the same page. That is, just telling someone what page you are on is not the same thing as helping them to get on the same page as you. You can shout your opinion as loud and as long as you want, but it’s not going to make a single difference to your audience unless they can tell that you’re talking to them and that you aren’t just trying to force your opinions on them. Nobody likes being forced.
So when I think about writing for an audience, I like to take a cue from the book Ender’s Game. If you haven’t read it, you should: it’s a great book. But what you need to know is that the main character, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a tactical prodigy who gets drafted at a very young age to help the earth fight against an alien species that threatens the planet. What does any of that have to do with writing rhetorically? Well, part way through the book, Ender explains where his tactical genius comes from:
He says: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.... I destroy them.”
Think about that for a second. Ender didn’t win battles just because he was the strongest or smartest or most well-equipped. He won because he understood his enemy, understood them so well that he came to love them. Because he knew how his enemies operated, what made them tick, he knew how to respond to their attacks. He knew how to win because he knew his enemy well enough to love them.
Essentially, that’s the key to writing effectively to an audience. You have to understand them and really make your rhetorical strategy specific to whoever is reading your work. Of course, the goal of writing rhetorically is not to destroy your enemies—unless you count persuading them to be your allies as a form of destruction.
But the point is that, unless you know what makes your audience tick, you are going to have a hard time getting them on the same page. You have to know what they want, and if that seems to be different from what you want at first, part of your job is understanding them enough to show them how your argument helps them. Because, remember, it isn’t that interesting to be able to persuade people who already agree with you (that’s not really persuasion anyway).
Imagine, for example, that I had just started a YouTube channel and I wanted subscribers. Well, I could just sit down in front of a camera and say the word subscribe over and over for 10 minutes and 30 seconds. A video like that would serve my purposes 100%--I want subscribers, so I make a video that tells people to subscribe.
But how many people, really, are going to watch a video like that? How likely would you be to subscribe?
Ten minutes of me begging for subscribers would be a rhetorical strategy that only helps me and has nothing to do with my audience or their desires, beliefs, or values. It's a good way to state what I want, but it's not a very good way of getting other people on the same page.
Instead of just telling you what I want, I could instead try to give you something that you want, to present an argument about why my goal is really compatible with yours. Maybe I do some research and find out that there aren’t a lot of useful YouTube videos to help people with college writing. Maybe I know a thing or two about college writing from my years of teaching college writing classes.
Maybe instead of just telling you what I want and expecting you to fall in line because it is what I want and I know I’m right, I could produce a video or two that offers some straightforward writing advice and promise you that there will be plenty more to come. Then, when I ask you subscribe, it will not just be because I want subscribers. It will be because you want to learn more about writing effectively and subscribing will help you to know about the newest helpful content on the channel.
Of course, this is a purely hypothetical scenario, but you can probably see how an audience-centered approach to writing can make a huge difference. I’m willing to bet that none of you would be too interested in a channel all about why I want subscribers. But it’s much more likely that you would subscribe to a channel that adds some value for you. If I can see things through your eyes, and show you how what I want will get you more of what you want, I’m much more likely to get us on the same page.
As always, we could go into much greater depth, but this is a great starting place for today. So, really quickly, let’s recap:
Writing a good paper or argument is about much more than just stating your opinion
Whenever you write, you have to keep your audience in mind—
You will write to your audience more effectively if you can see things through their eyes and present your argument in a way that makes sense to them and helps them to achieve what they’re after
As we go on to talk more about writing and rhetoric, keep in mind that audience is central to everything we do as writers. Persuasion only works if you’re connecting with your audience in a meaningful way—so it’s always going to be worth the effort to try to figure out what your audience values so that you can present your ideas in their terms.