As any fan of the Game of Thrones would tell you, the uber-popular HBO series features some of the best writing and dialogue anywhere, on screen or in print. In every episode its sharp-tongued characters trade verbal daggers full of wisdom, sarcasm and rhyme. For anyone who wants to become a better communicator, the show is a gem mine of lessons and inspirations.
One such lesson comes from the Queen Mother of Dragons herself, Daenerys Targaryen. Not only is she good at feeding her enemies to her dragons, she’s quite the speechmaker too.
Take, for instance, the famous speech she made to the entire city of Meereen as she was about to invade it. You can watch it in full HD here:
*A one-sentence background if you haven’t seen the show: in this fictional land, great cities like Meereen are slave pits where millions of slaves wail beneath a few rich masters; and Daenerys has come to free them all.
Now, have a look at the brief but forceful speech. The main feature should be unmistakable to most: she slices her target audience in two – the slaves and the masters – and clearly addresses her speech to the slaves only. “Your masters may have told you lies about me…” she says right away, “I have nothing to say to them. I speak only to you.” She then proceeds to turn the slaves against their masters in chillingly effective fashion.
There’s a valuable communication lesson here. And no, I’m not talking about inciting your audience members to kill and enslave one another (though the art of persuasion can certainly be used to divide and conquer - more on that in a future post).
Rather, the lesson is how to treat your audience: Novice communicators treat every audience like they’re identical. Experienced communicators know that every audience is unique. But master communicators go deeper still:
They know exactly which audience members matter, and how.
Just as Daenerys decides that the slaves are key to her conquest of the city, so you should identify which audience members hold the key to your success. It could very well be all of them: if you're speaking to inspire your team, and all of them are vital to what your organization does.
It could be but a few of them: if you’re speaking to convince the parliament to change laws, wowing the most powerful coalition leaders could be enough; they’ll bring the others onboard. Or, your key audience could even be just one: if you’re speaking to convince a company to undertake a venture, wowing the monolithic CEO could be enough; she’ll bring the others onboard.
Before every important communication, verbal or written, ask yourself: "Which audience members are most crucial to the success of my speech?" Then devote considerable amount of time, well ahead of time, to get to know who they are and what makes them sit up and listen, get up and act.
- The best resources I know on getting to know your audience are by the Queen of Presentation herself, Nancy Duarte. Here's her article on Ronald Reagan's Challenger speech, in which Reagan identified five key audiences and tailored the perfect message for each. Her best-selling book Resonate has way, way more practical wisdom on this.
- In this book, World Class Speaking, World Champion speaker Craig Valentine offers troves of tips and questions on how to get to know your audience.