As is most likely evident, I haven’t taken too many writing or language classes recently. The most recent class was a free-writing class that I took over a decade ago. It was a very casual class. No grades were given and there was no college credit. No worries, we weren’t all given trophies in the end. I don’t even recall getting a certificate. It was an adult extended learning class that was meant to encourage the casual writer and was most likely a fund-raiser for something. I can’t remember. It was before the age of blogging and before the social media boom.
A lot has changed since then, but the few lessons that I remember of the class remain the same:
- Know your subject or be prepared to research it thoroughly.
- Either be believable or be greatly entertaining.
- And above all, know your audience.
It wasn’t like I had never heard the phrase before. Beyond hearing it in day to day life, it was also mentioned several times in my speech classes and in marketing classes in both high school and college. It’s not an uncommon phrase, but it is limiting, or at least it should be.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
As the number of friends on my Facebook page has crept up to over nine-hundred, it is difficult to write while keeping everyone in mind, and quite frankly, I don’t want to. I really should do some weeding, but I like the diversity. I must not get too offensive or the weeding would take care of itself.
There is nothing that can be said anymore that won’t offend someone. However, in speaking one-on-one to people, this southern girl feels that knowing one’s audience should be given more thought.
I thought of the phrase last year when a shop owner began small talk and quickly started talking politics to me. Dumb move. He didn’t know me well enough and within less than a minute I had to tell him that he really shouldn’t talk politics in the shop while trying to make a sale. I said it with a smile, of course. He skipped on and started talking about some shoppers and his slurs for them made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and made me speak up once again. I explained the dynamics of my own family and watched him turn red. He apologized and said that he had no intention of being controversial. I just nodded my head and finished my business. So many times silence is best.
The phrase came to mind again last week when sitting in on a sales presentation. Being in the situation was entirely my fault. I had fallen into the trap of an enticing sales pitch for a vacation package that offered great discounts in exchange for an “hour of my time.” The first salesman had failed to convince me to make a purchase, so they sent in the more seasoned one with a better deal. I looked at her with the same coolness as the first and politely declined their sales offer again. She asked why. It was a reasonable question and I was very polite but short in my response. I shrugged, “It simply isn’t the way we plan our travel.”
It was an honest answer. We typically pick out where we want to go, figure out which date is best, then figure out which accommodations would be best based on location, availability, and budget. The idea of being locked into choosing a location, then finding one of their available dates seemed limiting to me. Our time is already so limiting.
She scrolled through pages of options and asked if that looked limiting. I explained that it already had been. That is why she was graced with my presence. She assured me that it was impossible. Yet, when she looked up my first-choice location, she found I was right, it was indeed booked through end of the summer. She called the first salesman back over and they poked around for a bit thinking it was an error, but it wasn’t.
“Well, you may have to plan a little ahead for the more popular resorts.” She said.
“I began looking in March.” I told her. “The month before that, we had more pressing things going on and, I realize that this is a good deal, but for us, it just proved to be a headache.”
She stood over me with her arms crossed and her brows in a pinch. Over the course of the next thirty minutes she asked “Isn’t family important to you?”, “Surely you are capable of understanding simple math?”, and my personal favorite, “How do you travel? In an RV?”
If she had known her audience at all she could have made a sale that day… or not, but rarely would such tactics work on any southern woman that I know. We don’t appreciate someone standing over us like children, we certainly won’t cave to silly sales tactics like dragging our family into the matter, and, good grief, she couldn’t begin to know that I thought it was a great thrill to travel by RV as a child. I pitied her really. Her math was grossly flawed. It allowed no room for life events like illness, kids going to college, or traveling for the sake of kid’s sports. How dare she talk to me about math. HA!
At that point, I peeled off my name badge and told her that her hour had been over for forty-five minutes. I was very good at calculating time. I explained that I am generally not a rude person but I had not paid to be insulted. Whatever I needed to sign, she had five minutes to gather it and meet me in the lobby.
Early in the presentation, when we were still being friendly, they had asked where our favorite place to vacation was. I made the mistake of divulging too much information and told them that our children love staying on property at Disney World and that we really don’t mind the value resorts because our kids have so many great memories of them already.
She used that bit of knowledge as a point to attack on too. She ranted about the tiny rooms and how cramped we must all be in there. “Where do you all sleep? They don’t even have queen sized beds!” She laughed like she had something on me. Bless her.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
I was already done with her. I didn’t feel the need to explain myself. Why waste more time? My family is important to me and they were waiting on this meeting to be done. Quality time is important to me and it really makes little difference what size the bed is. Besides, my mind had already wandered off and I was wondering how much it would cost to rent an RV. Argue with that.