We like it when speakers or writers put us at ease by drawing in references we find relatable. We open our minds when we hear someone talking about something familiar before they tread into areas that are new or alien. Successful communicators know how to take shared experiences or current events and turn them into a learning experience. Soften your audiences with the familiar before you push their brains into overdrive. Make a comparison between your company’s new product launch and the NFL in Detroit and you might just create an image that resonates with your audience that resonates and is remembered.
But be careful. If you use the same football analogy in Shanghai or Lagos… you’re likely to be looking at a room full of confused people.
The Internet has made the world a smaller place by making it easier for people to connect. Sure, that’s great, but it also means that we need to consider that not everyone will view or Web pages, hear our presentation or see our videos will comprehend certain references. There are cultural traits we need to think about if our audience comes from a different part of the country or a different country altogether. In the digital age, communicators need to be more sensitive to the fact that their audiences may approach content from a completely different viewpoint.
Some experiences are universal… others, not so much. Here’s a list of five categories you can draw on to find “shared experiences” to engage your audience. The more globally oriented you make your content, the more difficult it will be to find common ground.
- The Human Experience. There are some experiences that all seven billion people living on Planet Earth share. Bodily functions are something that all of us can understand, for better or for worse. Likewise, we all understand the daily rising and setting of the sun, the passing of a year, and the need to eat.
- A Slice of Life. Recognizing products in a supermarket and the frustrations of highway traffic are among the situations that we might all encounter on any given day. Some of these experiences can be culturally based but still appeal to a general population.
- Popular Culture. Audiences readily grasp concepts when they are compared to television shows, movies, etc. But make sure that your audience is familiar with the base comparison. You can’t necessarily expect someone living in Miumbai to grasp an analogy based on the popular American situational comedy Modern Family any more than you could expect someone in New York to connect with a comparison from India’s longest-running television series, I.D.
- Many audiences respond well to sports references. Most of the world is crazy about soccer – except in the United States, where fans are more obsessed with American football.
- Historical references work well because they put new concepts into a natural framework; just be mindful that you will need to save more obscure historical references for better-informed audiences.