How to communicate: a tip from Sir Terry

A circle with the words total audience one (sort of)At the height of his broadcasting fame, Sir Terry Wogan was apparently asked how many listeners he had. He was the much-loved presenter of Wake up to Wogan, Radio 2’s popular breakfast show, at the time.

His actual listening figure was around 10 million.

But his answer to the question?


Communication genius
I am a child of the 70s and 80s. Like many people, I have very fond memories of gathering around the TV with my family to watch the Wogan chat show and I was such a fan of the game show Blankety Blank that I even had the board game. Watching the documentary ‘Sir Terry Wogan Remembered: fifty years at the BBC’ a few years ago, I was genuinely moved by the tributes of his friends and colleagues who recognised his brilliance, warmth and unfailing kindness – you can’t fake that kind of love.

The programme also highlighted his genius for communication and for engaging with his listeners and viewers. When he retired, he famously signed off “Thank you for being my friend”. And people felt so connected to him that they really did consider him to be their friend.

There were many examples of his communication ability in the documentary, from his genuine interest in people to his natural way with words and even his appreciation of the power of silence. But for me, that one anecdote about his response when asked about his number of listeners stood out as a shining explanation for his success. And it’s one that I think all would-be communicators can learn from.

It’s not about you
Effective communication is never about the speaker or the writer – the person who is wanting to get their message ‘out there’. It is always about their audience. As I’ve covered in my blog before, people tend to hear what they want to hear or what they are listening out for. Their interests, motivations and mood that day will always colour their conversation with the speaker (or writer).

That’s why I always advise my clients and anyone who wants to communicate effectively to put themselves in their audience’s shoes early on in the planning process.

Sometimes, however, that can feel like a daunting task, especially when your audience group is large or particularly diverse. And that’s where the brilliance of Sir Terry’s response comes in. By focussing on one (representative) member of the audience, you are immediately making the task of communicating more manageable for you and more tailored and personal for them.

Channel Sir Terry
This isn’t a new or innovative approach – successful communicators have been doing it for years, using personas, straw men and profiles. I even attended a course years ago where the technique was called Pocket People and over the years I have had lots of fun getting Doris out of my pocket like a virtual Borrower with views on pension schemes, fundraising activities and degree programmes.

But how many of us actively adopt this approach every time? Imagine how much more personal and engaging your communication campaign would be if instead of filming a video with the CEO for the professional services teams, he recorded a message for Doris. Or instead of writing a newsletter for the front of house staff you wrote a piece that Marc would enjoy.

Why not try channelling your inner Sir Terry and instead of speaking to 10 million listeners, just speak to one?

Let me know how you get on and if you’d like some help doing it, give me a call.

Until next time

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