Monday, September 12, 2016

Understanding your audience

Understanding who makes up your audience is fundamentally important for any writer or speaker. I was reminded of this today in an otherwise boring talk on a topic far from boring (Sherlock Holmes) because the speaker read, verbatim, to an audience of non-experts a lecture designed to be read by scholars. It was written to be published in a journal, not delivered orally.

This practice is all too common at academic conferences. Instead of talking in clear language, scholars generally write a paper that is really an article in disguise, full of long sentences and abstract language ("narrative strategies deeply informed by hermeneutics....") that seems designed to put people to sleep within fifteen minutes.

The speaker's problem today was that he had no idea to whom he was speaking. He wanted to sound impressive, I suppose, and ending up wasting our time, or at least mine.

The lesson is something I always consider in communication. I cannot write without deciding, Who will read this? Where can I send this (for publication)?  If I picture certain readers I know, or imagine someone like myself as the ideal reader, I have an audience, and the communication process works. I have a reason to write.

Without an audience of readers, I am lost as a writer, unable to do anything.

Consider this blog: Who is my audience? I get only hints since so few readers ever leave comments.  The fine people at Goog'e BlogSpot give me a tally by country of those who have clicked onto one of my posts, and I am amazed to find readers in China, Russia, Europe and the U.S. (rarely in Canada or Australia, for unknown reasons). 

Beyond location, I know nothing much about these readers except that certain topics elicit more attention than others. I have to imagine who they are since a writer's audience is always a fiction, as Walter Ong once wrote n a famous article.

Just knowing taht at least one or two people "out there" in cyberspace might read what I write gives me the motivation to communicate. So I remain grateful to Google for this service and to the presence of unseen readers who make possible what I do on Writing in the Spirit.

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