Know Your Audience: John Oliver Schools Edward Snowden


Spotted Dick Pic by slgckgc on Flickr In a recent Last Week Tonight, John Oliver flies all the way to Russia to meet with Edward Snowden, whistleblower, for an exclusive interview. Only...the interview turns into a poignant lesson about audience development.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEVlyP4_11M

First off, I should reveal that I have a bias. I think that Snowden was heroic for exposing the truth. He took a huge risk and threw away his career and freedom to reveal the truth to the world. I was a fan when the news first came out and I became even a bigger fan after watching CitizenFour.

So, unlike the people who LWT interviewed during the segment, I DO know who Edward Snowden is and what he did.  But even though I know respect what Snowden did, I am in the audience of people who do nothing to change it. I don't even change my own behaviour!

That is why I found Oliver's advice to reframe the argument so incredibly brilliant. And one that Snowden should definitely heed.

Reframing is one of the most elegant tools in the Audience Development box. Your message not getting through? It's probably how you are framing it.

Global warming? That sounds too nice. Try climate change. Want to scare people away from public health care? Reframe the bureaucracy as a death panel. It's not a diet. That sounds awful. It's a lifestyle change. That sounds way more do-able. Need to sell some old stuff? Label it as retro.

You may think reframing is a fancy word for spin - and some of my examples toe the line - but the difference is that this isn't about tricking someone, it's about intentionally put the audience at the center of the argument.  John Oliver's suggestion that Edward Snowden reframe his arguments to focus in on something everyone can understand - in this case Dick Pics - is about simplifying and personalizing something very complex and foreign to the audience.

The more complex your message is, the more important it is to ground it with something your audience is familiar with. Don't lie. Don't spin. Just empathize. Put yourself in the shoes of the recipients and find common ground.

The next time you find your important message falling on deaf ears, reframe it in relation to something your audience cares about.

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