Six reasons why your audience isn’t listening

 In communication

Do you know your target audience?

At what point is your audience going to stop listening, reading or watching your content or messaging?

According to a Microsoft study in 2015, the average human attention span is now eight seconds. That’s one second less than a goldfish.

How does that affect you?

If you’re serious about your business and the role communication plays, it sets a serious challenge. Particularly when the kind of messages and content you use to promote your business requires more than eight seconds of attention from your audience.

Think about it for a moment. How long do you want someone to spend:

  • Reading your marketing email?
  • Watching your youtube video?
  • Listening to your podcast?
  • Looking through your web site or reading your sales page?

More than eight seconds?

So it seems we’ve got a problem: keeping our audience “tuned in” long enough to get our message.

Let me share with you something about this problem from my experience as a communication consultant. Communicators actively turn their audiences away because of how they have created their marketing, operational or personal messaging and content.

Here are top five most common reasons why you might be turning away your audience:

  • You’re not addressing your audience’s needs
  • You’re not taking into account your audience’s attitudes
  • You’re using the wrong medium
  • You’re using the wrong language
  • You’re not the right sender

Let me explain in detail.

Not addressing your audience’s needs

Think back to when you last read a news or blog article. Why did you read that particular article or blog? What was it that thr article gave you to keep reading? Or consider why someone might watch a youtube clip on the key features of the Samsung Galaxy S7.

It comes down to providing what the reader or viewer needed.

Whenever an audience consumes a message or content it is because they are getting something they need from that message or content. It’s the need that draws them in.

Let’s turn that around to your perspective as the communicator. If you know what your audience needs, you have a valuable piece of intel that will help you create something that will draw them in and keep them tuned in whilst ever you are providing them with what they need.

In its 2016 benchmarking report, the Content Management Institute found that over half of the marketers they surveyed across B2B, B2C and non profit organisations placed finding their audience’s needs as the top priority.

This is something you need to do whenever you communicate to convince, persuade, explain, inform or entertain people. Get to know their needs and make sure you deliver on this through your comms.

Make sure you find out your target audience’s needs before you communicate.

Not accounting for your audience’s attitude

Your audience already has an attitude towards the subject matter that will make up your message.

This attitude could be positive, neutural or negative. Or in the case of a participant in one of my IT training sessions many years ago it was fear. Fear of being over 60 and having to learn how to use a computer for the first time in her life as her company moved from paper to digital.

If you know what kind of attitude your audience has towards your subject matter, you need to account for this in how you communicate your message.
Let’s imagine that you are an Internet marketer who is promoting an alternative health solution to someone who believes in mainstream medicine. You’cve founds out that as strong believers in mainstream medicine their attitude towards your alternative health topic is likely to be sceptical or even cynical.

You can use this important knowledge to approach how you write your sales copy. You might work out that this sceptical attitude comes from a perception of alternative health lacking scientific backing. You can neutralise this attitude head on with an opening statement: “I know it’s easy to be critical of traditional health supplements, but wait until you read the science on this…”

This statement acknowledges the scepticism up front but turns it around by getting them to focus on the science behind the alternative health offering.

You could not do this in your sales copy unless you knew or anticipated the kind of attitude in the audience you were targeting.

Make sure you find out the attitude of your target audience before communicating.

Using the wrong medium

Did you know that US people spend an average of 732 minutes a day consuming some kind of media (according to
251 minutes alone is spent behind the TV. 174 minutes is spent on mobile devices whilst 132 minutes is spent online from a laptop or desktop computer. Less time is spent reading books, magazines, newspapers and radio.

Why is this helpful for us as people wanting to use communication to drive our business success?

It shows us that people get their information from different media. And it says something about how people have a preference for different types of media.

The simple fact is that your target audience will have a preference for where and how they get information. Some people simply don’t like to read and so won’t read. Some people (such as salespeople on the road) don’t have time to read but plenty of time to listen.

If you know your audience has a preference for learning from youtube videos, why would you use a printable pdf to get your message to them? If you know your target audience spends most of their Saturday at a ball game and at home read baseball magazines, why would you place sales copy in the local music club magazine?

Consider your audience’s preference for getting information and use that media to get your message to them. And make sure you use the language of the medium to get your message across.

Using the wrong language

If you don’t know what language resonates with your target audience before you start writing, you don’t know them well enough.

Recently a large Australian corporate company developed a PowerPoint slide pack outlining changes to regulations affecting a series of customer plans. This PowerPoint pack was sent to managers in Australia who happily signed off on it. It made sense to them because it used the language that worked with them.

The same PowerPoint slidepack was then sent to call centre staff in the Phillipines to read so they could get the information and then explain it to customers.

The problem?

The Call Centre staff could not make sense of the material. Firstly, the content was written from a context that only the managers had. Secondly – and this is important – the language was littered with management jargon with complex words and sentences that made it difficult for the call centre team to understand.
The big problem was that one piece of communication was written in a language style that suited one audience but that was a mismatch for another audience because it used the wrong language.

Without a clear understanding the Call Centre could not explain changes to customers properly.

It is critical to use a style of language that resonates with your target audience. Otherwise you’ll lose them or turn them away from your message or content.

Not be the best sender

Prosci is a company that has spent the last 20 years studying how to facilitate change in an organisation. One of their main ideas is that organisational change comes down to individuals and how well they embrace the change.

In one of their benchmarking reports, Prosci found that some messages were best sent by immediate managers and another group of messages were best sent by executives in the organisation.
Why? Individuals would be more likely to “listen” to personal messages from their direct managers rather than others in the organisation. And individuals would be more likely to “listen” to corporate information if it came from senior management.

This finding has implications on how you and I communicate a message. It shows that the person who sends a message has a big impact in whether that message gets through to the audience or not.

Why do you think sales emails promoting health products have pictures of doctors in lab coats? Or emails promoting the latest fitness products have pictures of muscly or fit people in the pictures?

Sometimes you are not the best person to send a particular message even if you are the one who has crafted it. Some people listen to authority, others listen to people with experience, others listen to people with empathy… and a whole lot more.


In an age where attention spans are diminishing, a lot of people are actively turning away their audiences by failing to consider their audience’s:

  • Needs
  • Attitudes
  • Preferred medium
  • Language
  • Best sender of information

This applies in marketing communications as much as operational and personal communication.

At the end of the day to be successful, you need to do everything you can do understand your audience so you can craft a message that is relevant to them and gets them to take the action you need them take.

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communication skills