For some reason, all my education has been focused around the idea of being intently focused on your audience. In journalism, you had to be highly aware of almost speaking down to your audience in an effort to bring the most concise information to the widest reach of your core readers. In rhetoric, there was the idea that knowing your audience to the highest degree gave you a higher measure of power in persuasion.
I think, however, that the demand toward knowing your audience came when I was in my first incarnation of college education. I hesitate to mention it, but I never really aimed high when it came to my college education. I had the pick of full-rides to any schools in the state when I left high school and I simply decided to continue on with my high school educational career. I was into computers, enjoyed the tinkering, was hoping to get a bit more provoked into that sort of study *insert waving of hands* at a higher institution. [This is why letting an 18-year-old mold your career path can be a very bad thing.]
I went to the state’s premier research institution and was wildly excited by two things: they gave me money back at registration and that male to female ratio was about 4:1. I was rebuffed by the type of people I encountered – nope, I did not find numbers interesting, nor lines on graphs, or hacking into my graphing calculator. Interestingly, I enjoyed my writing classes the most.
These were embarrassingly small classes. A technical writing class of three people and a teacher was one I took one of the two semesters I was there. The teacher liked the idea of bringing in people from “the field” who would tell harrowing tales of working with engineers who didn’t like to shower or comb themselves and who would write worse notes than a doctor on LSD. As one such professional started off her thirty minute presentation, she ultimately gave my entire initial common sense reasoning behind why one should know their audience.
She stood in a huff in front of us, trying very hard to emulate the harden Technical Writer that she had in her mind of herself. She nodded curtly and said her name and where she worked. She grabbed a piece of chalk and walked up at the blackboard.
“We are fortunate that we speak English. English is varied. There is color. We could be speaking German.”
I sit a little higher in my seat. She moves to write on the board and scrawls the following:
She smirks at us, “This,” she says, “Is how a German would say that they would like to have a snack.” I gasp audibly; she ignores it. “Isn’t that just incredible? It is a verb. Imagine if we, as technical writers, had to deal with this sort of thing.”
For as little as I tended to speak in class back then, I was shocked when I couldn’t help but blurt out, “That’s not a German word.”
“Oh, I assure you it is.” She peered at me. Silence in the room. The other two students and the teacher stared at me. I looked at the speaker, “We would never say anything of the sort.”
She straightened, “I was told exactly this by a German.”
“Yeah…great, and I can tell you that this in no way accurate. I speak the language.”
I’d like to say she was knocked off her game, but no, she steadfastly ignored me. I spent the rest of her time talking pointedly ignoring her, because if she didn’t take the time to research this key opening point and did not think that there might be someone who spoke the language in her audience, what else might be faulty and craptastic in her presentation? And from there on out, Audience 101 was checked off on my educational general requirements list.