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Ever put a lot of effort into fine-honing a communication, only to get the feeling that people didn’t really take it in? Heather Barlow, change communications manager at Compass Group, gives her tips on getting people to listen and absorb what you are telling them.

Ever read something (even something you have a real interest in), got to the end and realised that somewhere along the way your mind had drifted off? Now, this might have been because you weren’t fully focused, but it was probably because it wasn’t written in a way your found engaging. The same goes for an event or presentation, some we just enjoy and remember more than others.

As communicators, and particularly those in corporate organisations, you are faced with a tirade of communications which need to go out to the business, consisting of a mix of everything, from HR and legal communications to social engagements. Sometimes, as a result of heavy workload, we can lose the engaging angle amongst the heavy flow of messages. What’s important to remember, is that you set the tone, you are in charge of how engaging the communication is (and I’m not just talking about a written piece, it could be an event, focus group, tweet...) and you also control the key messages your audience will take away. You cho0se whether your communication is delivered in a factual way or a more lively and engaging way. (Of course, some communications of a more serious nature, need to be written in such a way, but day to day, let’s shake things up!)

Top tips for engaging your audience

What’s in it for me?

This is the question everyone will ask when receiving a communication....”So what?” Your communication may mean different things to different people, so segment your messaging and get this message out there early on to lock them in!

Use metaphors

I love a metaphor, it can make a really complicated or technical communication interesting and bring it alive. Find an object, item or experience your audience can relate to and link the communication metaphorically. It will also mean that your audience will more easily recall the communication in future.

Tell a story

We all like to tell a story of what happened when...and people like to read a story start to finish, not just read about a moment in time. Telling a story helps the person reading it to ‘live’ it.


I cannot stress this one enough. If you can evoke an emotion (positive or negative), then you are on to a winner in engaging your audience! A great example of this is the Go Compare ad – you either love the theme tune or hate it! Either way, you remember it and recall of the message/brand is the most important thing. Avoid people feeling indifferent about your comms at all costs!

What is the saying...we all learn from experience?

It’s true isn’t it, so where possible, give your audience something to experience in order to engage with the communication, rather than just telling them about it. Something they can touch, smell or do...wake up those senses and wake up your comms!

What? When? How?

Has your inner child been exercised recently? As kids, we asked questions to find out about the world around us; as adults we like to search out the answers for ourselves, we less enjoy being ‘told’. So rather than telling your audience something, make a statement and ask them if they agree. Get them engaged with the message, thinking about it and drawing a conclusion.


This comes into play when you are communicating a difficult message or communicating a change. It is important that your audience know that you understand them and their needs and empathise with them. You can even go as far as directly addressing fears or concerns...”I bet you are thinking x,y or z? Well so are we and here is what we are going to do about it.”


Always reflect on your communications and messages, to see how well you engaged your audience. Always look for feedback and to make a small improvement each time.

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