John C. Besley, Michigan State University and Anthony Dudo, University of Texas at Austin Communication experts love to tell people to know their audience, but it is not always clear what they\u2019re meant to know. Knowing someone\u2019s age, education and gender is nice. So too is knowing context about economic, educational, cultural and ideological background. These are typically what the two of us hear when we\u2019ve asked science communication trainers what they think the expression means. Knowing such things are helpful, but there\u2019s a lot more a strategic communicator might want to know. Our own ongoing research on strategic science communication objectives suggests some more targeted pieces of information that could help communicators \u2013 whether scientists or anyone else \u2013 effectively share their message. Choosing to take part in a particular event suggests certain things about attendees. USDA NRCS South Dakota\/Flickr, CC BY-SA Know your audience by picking your audience To start, if you\u2019re being strategic, you should know something about your audience because you should have picked who you\u2019re communicating with based on your goals. In general, the hope is that experts like the scientists we study would have shifted valuable time or resources from their regular work to communication because there\u2019s some sort of behavior they want to see in some specific group or groups. The behavior could be individual \u2013 things such as drinking less, buying greener products, choosing a science career \u2013 or civic \u2013 behaviors such as supporting, opposing or disregarding an issue. No communicator \u2013 including scientists \u2013 should spend limited time, money and opportunity on audiences that aren\u2019t a priority given their goals. It will rarely make sense to spend resources trying to get an arch-liberal to donate to the National Rifle Association or a diehard lover of science to embrace science even more. Once you know what you want to accomplish and who you want to accomplish it with, you\u2019re a lot closer to figuring out what you need to know about your audience. Audiences aren\u2019t obligated to hang on your every word. Monkey Business Images\/Shutterstock.com What does your audience think and feel? The next step is figuring something out about the target audience\u2019s beliefs, feelings or way of framing a topic. It is these beliefs, feelings and frames that can change and it is these changes that will increase the odds an audience will meaningfully consider your hoped-for behavior. The most common types of beliefs that the scientists we study like to share are those related to the knowledge they\u2019re creating through their research. This might be something about new evidence connecting how rising greenhouse gases are changing the climate, a lack of connection between vaccines and risk, or any other new finding. This preference seems to stem from scientists\u2019 belief that their audience has a crucial gap in its knowledge or way of thinking. Increasing basic knowledge sometimes gets dismissed in science communication circles; there\u2019s little evidence that information-focused initiatives work very well. More and more facts rarely produce substantial behavioral changes. Worse, although researchers haven\u2019t carefully tested it, anyone who\u2019s sat through a boring lecture can probably attest to the fact that sharing too much technical detail can turn an audience off. On the other hand, most audiences probably expect to hear about experts\u2019 work and so experts likely need to share some information about what they\u2019re finding or they risk failing to meet people\u2019s expectations. Just as importantly, there are many other facts beyond those associated with technical knowledge that communicators could ethically want people to come to believe. Expressing shared values can help build trust and connection. DVIDSHUB\/Spc. Tobey White\/Flickr, CC BY For the topics we study, it might be helpful to really know, for example, if an audience believes the research team is competent, honest, caring, open and similar to them when it comes to values. If this is not how the scientists are perceived, it\u2019s important to know so the communicator can make communication choices that give the audience a chance to learn a bit more about the team \u2013 assuming they do embody these characteristics. This might mean sharing a bit about their credentials and the sophisticated effort that went into the pertinent research, the motives that drive the team or what they do to make sure they\u2019re always listening to others\u2019 views. These trust-related communication objectives may be particularly important for making it more likely that someone will pay attention and think about what you have to say. For example, audience members may lack the motivation to truly listen to someone that they believe is dishonest or incompetent. Similarly, if the goal is to promote behaviors, it helps to know what the audience thinks about those behaviors. Do they believe in the risks or benefits of what the research suggests? Which do they think about most? And what do they think their family and friends think and do \u2013 what social psychologists call subjective and descriptive norms? Do they think they even have the ability to do what\u2019s being suggested or believe that doing so will make a difference? It may also be important to know how the audience feels, what emotions are driving behavior and how they mentally frame the issue. You can\u2019t know everything about your audience Of course it\u2019s impossible to know everything about your audience. You can make educated bets \u2013 and you can also ask for help from a communication expert or longtime leader in your organization or a group you belong to. In our area of study, these might be the public information officers at universities or scientific societies. They want to help and the good ones are constantly tracking stakeholder views on various issues you might want to address. There are also many things you probably can\u2019t change about your audience through communication \u2013 like an individual\u2019s core values \u2013 although these can affect how what you communicate gets interpreted. And that\u2019s why you have to prioritize by being clear on your goals and starting with an understanding of your audience. Communication theory and formative research are meant to help with such strategizing. John C. Besley, Ellis N. Brandt Professor of Public Relations, Michigan State University and Anthony Dudo, Associate Professor of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Texas at Austin This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.