6 tips to make your audience actively listen PDF Print E-mail
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“We want to engage with EU citizens, with decision-makers, with NGOs, with business, with the media….with everyone!”

Probably that’s one of the answers which every public affairs practitioner has heard before and which gives them the chills. The truth is that communicating for public affairs should not be different in its framework from communicating for a marketing or PR campaign for example. Because it is not so important what type of communications engagement program it is per se; what is important for the communicator is:

  • To know how they can segment their target audience
  • Where to find the different segments of their target audience
  • To identify what triggers the specific target groups to listen* to a story
  • To learn what makes the specific target groups keep on listening

Or in other words what is vital is to know all the requirements and conditions needed to build a story which is relevant, engaging and personal.

Below we propose to you 6 tips on how you could make your audience actively listen when you’re communicating for public affairs.

1. Personalize, personalize, personalize

Your storytelling in public affairs has to be as personal as when you put yourself in the shoes of the listener: does this resonate with the individual? Not with the “the businessman, the politician, the journalist” but with the person behind the job title.

2. Don’t forget the intermediaries

Communications for public affairs usually go through several intermediaries– be they a media outlet or the assistant of an MEP. Back in the days when stories were transmitted just by word of mouth, that led to the creation of many variations and re-modifications of the original story. How are you going to make sure you’re relating both to the intermediary and to the end target audience and still keeping the key takeaways of your narrative?

3. Be timely

Think about the best moment for listening to your story – maybe it’s not in work hours? Or even if it is, is it at 8am? The main consideration here is to link again to the first point – being personal and relate to the best moment when the individual is ready to listen with as much of an open mind as possible.

4. Challenge your listener

If you say everything you want to your target audience – you actually share your views without leaving them room to find or assume the conclusion themselves. What is important in storytelling is to be the narrator who leads the listener in the desired direction but not giving him/her everything at the start – simply put, it might be that in public affairs storytelling your listener doesn’t agree with your position and that’s much worse than having no opinion at all! Your role is to give him/her the tools to reach their conclusions alone – because as in any other type of stories, it’s natural that the listener starts to think on his/her own about the possible scenarios for the ending… Give your audience ways to engage with the story

Have you noticed how engaged sitcom fans become with their favourite series’ characters? They do fan-trailers, foto-collages; post pictures on their Facebook walls; engage in Twitter discussions about their favourite actor; go on pre-launch book events; participate in competitions… The storytelling in public affairs is not that different – if you engage your audience with a story that builds up in time and give them the tools to be part of it – that pays: from a mere listener you can turn the individual into a participating supporter.

5. It’s not just about asking for opinion. It’s about doing something about that opinion.

One of the biggest challenges in public affairs storytelling is what to do with the generated engagement from your target audiences.  If you want to engage with citizens for example to get their support on a public debate – how do you empower the individual citizen to become both a local and EU ambassador for your story? How do you make the individual efforts stand out? How do you demonstrate to the citizens that their opinion and input have a great importance and can define how would the story end?

6. Make one experience the story

Building upon our previous points on being personal, timely, engaging, you should not forget a key element for your storytelling – how are you going to make the individual experience your story? What kind of media are you using and are you creative in combining new and old communications tools? Are you visual? Do you touch the eye senses? The hearing senses? Do you include actual physical senses? The right choices in how you package, present and tell your story are key factors defining your success with the different target audience segments in your public affairs storytelling.

What tips and tricks do you use?

Lucy Setian is a Senior Account Manager at Edelman Brussels

*Listening here refers to comprehending stories and could be an actual listening, reading, watching

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