Chapter 2: Empathize with your audience

How to connect with the audience you want to reach

When you look at what you wrote in the “Define the impact” workbook exercise, your audience – the person or people you want to influence with your story – probably emerges naturally. It may be a specific individual, such an executive in your organization, or it may be a broad range of people. When you consider the Topic you selected, you can probably imagine multiple audiences who would be interested in it, each of which you might want to influence in some way.

The power of your story is dependent on your connection with your audience. Making an effective connection is much harder than it looks.

To help you understand the challenge here, and to get your mind in the right place to connect well with your audience, let’s look at our first Storytelling tip: Tip 1 - Know your audience and what they value:

Building the proper connection with your audience requires empathy. This means setting aside all of the goals, ideas, and metrics that you care about, and spending time understanding the mindset of an actual human being in your audience.

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Building real empathy requires you to do a deep dive in both the demographics (the who, what, and where labels of their lives) and psychographics (their attitudes, aspirations, and the most meaningful parts of their lives) of the people in your audience. You need to vividly imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes, to deal with their challenges, and to live their lives.


Go to Page 3 in your workbook, Scope the story: Empathize with your audience,” and fill in the blanks to help you deeply understand the details and values of people in your target audience.

Don’t be discouraged if you struggled with the workbook exercise. It’s very common to discover that you know almost nothing about the lives and values of people you may only contact occasionally. That’s OK – there’s an easy remedy. Ask them.

Ask questions such as, “What are you most passionate about?” or “What is your pet peeve?” or “Why do you do the work you do?” Pay close attention to the answers, and back off if there’s any sense of discomfort. But make the time for this brand of conversation. You must set aside your need to be heard and just listen to what comes back. You will find that people are generally thrilled to tell you about the things that matter to them.

Why empathy matters in storytelling

When you empathize with your audience, it gives you the insights you need to find something inherent in your Topic that will resonate with that other person. It will reveal to you what matters to them personally, and show you want it feels like to know nothing about a subject or an issue that you are deeply immersed in.

Remember that your job is to connect with the other person. When you’re empathetic, it shows that person that you took the time to care about their point of view and find something new that matters to them. This is central to the first step in the story creation process: looking at your experiences and finding the ones that will resonate with your audience on the landscape of what’s personally meaningful to them.

Done well, empathy is a practice. It’s not a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing effort to be involved in the lives of the people in your audience. It’s an investment that will pay you amazing dividends, and for more than even just great storytelling.