YOU have done the necessary research, formulated a sensible proposal and even rewritten the final draft for your presentation at tomorrow's staff meeting.

The only factor you failed to consider is one of the most important components of the communication process: knowing the "who" in "to whom it may concern".

How many countless documents have crossed your desk that left you scratching your head with their redundant remarks, incomplete ideas or unclear instructions?

I call these "so-what" messages because your likely response to them is, "So what?"

Are you to write a report, hold a meeting, propose a solution or file the information for later use?

Whether it is a presentation to your peers, a memo to your staff or an e-mail message to an associate, it is not always what you say but how you connect to your audience that will determine the success of your messages.

Know your audience

Who is your audience?

Are you communicating to an entire client organisation, an average-sized department or a few colleagues?

Are they decision makers, managers or those with veto power?

Is their relationship to you that of a supervisor, a peer or a subordinate?

More often than not, your reports, letters and memos will go through several people either for approval or general information.

When writing to a mixed audience, first rank readers in importance.

After you have pinpointed and ranked each reader or group of readers, give the most important readers their information first.

Knowing your audience will help you streamline your research, shape your key message, select the most appropriate details and adapt your words more appropriately.

Know their concerns

What are your readers' interests?

Part of knowing "to whom it may concern" involves knowing their concerns, biases and backgrounds.

Vocabularies, areas of expertise and even mindsets differ as you move across company hierarchies, as well as up and down them.

What is of little concern to a chief executive officer may hold greater interest to a sales manager and be of extreme importance to a marketing director.

Management will most likely be concerned with issues regarding profit projections, a project's overall significance to the company, corporate image concerns and necessary steps in planning.

General professionals will be more concerned with the day-to-day issues, such as why a project is undertaken, how the research is carried out, how the policy will be re-evaluated and what specific part they play.

Specialists will be more interested in information required to do a specific job such as statistics, forms, flow charts, maps, formulas and other things generally included in the "fine print".

Make your readers' interests a priority, and you will grab and keep their attention.

How much do they already know about the subject?

Instead of reiterating the obvious, be sure you do not overload others with meaningless or repetitive details. But give enough background on the problem so they fully understand the situation.

While your primary audience may understand all the concepts and terms, your secondary readers may need more details because of their smaller degree of involvement.

Avoid using jargon for those readers outside your narrow field. You are only courting misunderstanding.

How much your readers know dictates what and how much extra information to include in which sections of your document.

Structure your message

So what is the answer to the dilemma when communicating with multiple readers who have varied interests, backgrounds and technical expertise?


Put your most important information to your most important reader up front. Lesser-ranking readers will need to read further to get the details they want.

How will they use your information?

Delivering a specific point in your document is your responsibility.

Do you expect your readers to consider, discuss, act on, research or instruct others?

The answer to this question will help you decide whether to write, phone or meet face to face.

If your oral presentation or document is meant to keep them informed on new advances in their field, give a broad scope of the discovery and zero in on its significance for other projects and decisions.

If they are to use your information as the basis for a decision, present your case persuasively to win their cooperation.

Identify the "to whom it may concern" of your documents and oral presentations and customise your intentions and details accordingly. Clear intentions result in effective results.