One question kept coming up with my clients recently: “How do you ‘nest’ messages?” So, okay, that’s not how they actually framed the question.
No, for them the questions were more like:
- What do I say to our leadership team to help them see how this benefits our members?
- I work with the C-suite, but the HR managers hire me… so what do I say to them about the work I do?
- How can I show an investor that this solves a big problem for people with this disease?
And there you have it: as soon as you have one audience that you’re talking to about another audience… you suddenly have two audiences you need to serve at once: the acting audience and the ultimate audience. The ultimate audience are those who ultimately benefit from your idea (or product, or service… you know the drill). The acting audience are those whose action you need in order to serve that ultimate audience.
Nonprofits know this distinction well: the ultimate audience are their performance-goers, or inner-city kids, or animals, etc. The acting audience are the donors or members that make the services possible.
Startups know it, too: the ultimate audience is the end-user or customer. The acting audience? You guessed it: the investor or the VC.
You probably deal with these dual audience situations all the time — like any time you have to get your boss’s, colleague’s, or team member’s cooperation to do something, or any time you have to go through a gatekeeper to do the real work you do.
When it comes to preparing and delivering your message, the tricky part is figuring out how to build one message (to the acting audience) about another message (to the ultimate audience). And that’s where the “nesting” comes in: you “nest” one message inside the other, like some kind of messaging Russian Doll.
But which one comes first?
To figure that out, let’s think a bit more about what’s really going on in these “two audience” scenarios. Most of the time, you’re making the case to the acting audience that they should help you serve your ultimate audience, right?
So make sure you have the case for your ultimate audience set first.
Here’s why: people will only act in ways that are consistent with what they believe. That means (a) you can likely never convert people who don’t want and value the same things you do and (b) if you do want and value the same things, you have to clearly show it.
For example, I was working yesterday with one of my clients, Sarah Noll Wilson, on this. Sarah works with C-Suite executives on how to have tough conversations with their team… but (like question #2, above) it’s the HR officers that work for (or alongside) those executives that usually hire her. Those same HR officers also make up the vast majority of the audiences to whom she speaks.
So, to figure out how to structure the message (and therefore the presentation) to HR officers, we first had to figure out how to make the case for what she does with C-Suite leaders, her ultimate audience.
Why? Because she had to make the case that she had a solid answer for a shared outcome: helping C-Suite execs have tough conversations, better. So, we started with the ultimate audience’s, the C-Suite’s, Goal (the question they are currently asking for which my client has an answer). Here’s what we came up with:
“How can I have tough conversations with my team… without making the situation worse?”
We built the rest of the Red Thread® from there — the case that connects their question to her answer (which, oversimplified, is: to view these conversations as actual conversations, not confrontations). Once we had that in place, it was easy to figure out the Red Thread of the message to the acting audience, HR officers.
What did we do? First, we revised the Goal question to something that acting audience, the HR officers, were asking:
“How can I help my C-Suite have these tough conversations (so they don’t make the situation worse)?” (See how that’s just a twist on the Goal for the ultimate audience?)
Then, because we’d already built that ultimate case, we could switch into that:
- “First, understand how your C-Suite is likely viewing these conversations as monologues, not dialogues, which sets up a confrontation….” [The ultimate case’s Problem pair]
- “But these tough conversations are, by the definition of “conversation,” a dialogue meant to shift perspectives (otherwise your exec could and would just send a memo, right?)….” [The ultimate case’s Truth]
- “That’s why the best way you can help your execs have these tough conversations more effectively, is to help them move from a confrontational, monologue-driven frame, to a conversational frame. To see it as an opportunity for both sides to shift perspective….” [The ultimate case’s Change]
- “Here’s how….” [Sarah would then sub in her ultimate case’s Actions, with added detail on how the HR officers can coach the C-Suite on what she’d otherwise directly tell the C-Suite to do]
This is just the “minimum viable case” for the HR officers. Sarah’s next step is to build out the presentation on this framework, but since she knows the case works in this compressed form, she knows she can make it work in a presentation at any length.
All nested messages work the same way: the heart of the case stays the same, only the Goal and Actions change. You’ll probably find that the “weight” of the presentation changes, too — you almost always spend more time on the Actions with your acting audience (which, though obvious, is because you’re asking them to act…) and more time on the Problem, Truth, and Change with your ultimate audience (if you have the opportunity to present to them).
Regardless of what the final form takes, when you nest your messages, you end up reinforcing your case with your various audiences, rather than reinventing it every time.Nest your messages to make sure you're reinforcing your case, not reinventing it every time. Click To Tweet
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