Tailoring Communication to Your Audience

Tailoring Communication to Your Audience

By John Sanchez, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Trainer and Author

FP&A professionals work in an environment that requires communicating with a wide variety of people, from the CFO and possibly the organization's board of directors, to department heads and maybe even managers and entry-level professionals all across the organization. This requires us to be adaptable to communicate effectively with all these different audiences. There are some things we can do to ensure we are consistently and reliably on point by tailoring our communication to each audience.

Above all else, effectively tailoring communication is rooted in asking good questions and listening carefully to fully understand people's responses. Here are some of the questions you should consider asking:

  • What is your audience's experience level?
  • How familiar are you with your audience and how familiar with you are they?
  • What is your audience's interest level?
  • How much topic knowledge does your audience have?
  • How diverse is your audience?

There are many more questions we could ask, but this is a good start and will give you some great information about your audience. While questions are the key to understanding our audience, they are only as good as our listening skills. If we don't listen effectively, even the best questions will bring us limited benefits, so let's talk about listening.


We spend about 70% of our waking hours communicating and roughly 45% of that time is in listening mode, so let's make sure we're being effective with this time. Active listening is the type of listening we should focus on. There are specific steps to the active listening process, and once you learn and practice them you will become a much better communicator. This simple visual illustrates the active listening process.

  • ​​​​​​​Mindset/Focus -The first step to active listening is to consciously focus on being an active listener. 
  • Pay Attention - Listen to understand. Don’t get off task thinking about what you will say next.
  • Defer Judgement - Separate the person from the idea.
  • Feed it Back – Feeding back what you heard is different from just repeating what the speaker said. When you feed it back you put what the speaker said into your own words to confirm that you correctly understood, not only the words they said, but their intent, emotion and any other things that you sense are embedded in the words you heard.

Active listening is often an iterative process. When you feed back what you heard the person may make clarifications, add on to what they just said, or correct a misunderstanding.  Going back through the process until you and they are satisfied that both sides are on the same page ensures you really understand and you have used active listening effectively.

Now that you know how to listen actively, let's talk about what to do with the information you glean from asking great questions and being a great active listener. You’ve probably heard about The Golden Rule. Simply put it says, “Do unto others as you would like to have done unto you.” Most people think this is a good rule of thumb and intuitively, it seems like an idea with merit. The problem with this principle is people are different and not everyone wants their communication the way you want yours. Even gloves don’t fit two different people the same, they don't "fit like a glove" universally. 


A better rule to use in your communication is the Platinum Rule, which says "do unto others as they would like done unto them." In other words, give them communication the way they want to receive it. If they prefer lots of details, give it to them. If they prefer brevity, like most CFOs and boards of directors do, give it to them. Adapt your communication to your audience based on what you learn from asking great questions and being a good listener.

​​​​By practicing these few simple things, you will ask good questions, use active listening ​​​​to really understand your audience and tailor your communication to them for maximum impact.​​​​​​​

The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog


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