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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Need help to narrow your topic? Answer 5 crucial questions.

woman with head in hands in front of a computer covered with sticky notes

How do you decide what to communicate when there’s so much to say? Doesn’t our audience deserve the benefit of all we know about the subject?

Yes and no. They deserve to be provided with what they want and need, which is much narrower and more focused than all the knowledge that can be shared.

In working with future and current nutrition professionals, I have seen time and again a common dilemma when creating content: narrowing one’s focus when asked to speak or write about a topic. There’s just so much we want to communicate.

If we provide an audience with all that we know, we overwhelm. If we narrow our focus, we will be much more effective. Let’s explore how to narrow a topic and achieve focus.

Need help narrowing your topic? Answer 5 crucial questions:

When selecting the specific content to communicate in a speech, an article, a social media post, a podcast, or via any communication channel, we will be more effective when we consider the answers to these five crucial questions.

What does my audience want and need?

Answering this question is fundamental for effective communication. The better one knows an audience and understands what they currently know, what they need to know, what they want to know, and how they can best put that knowledge into action, the better one can create content to meet the audience where they are and take them where they want and need to go.

Never assume you know the answer to this question. Look at the evidence. Ask the audience. The answer may surprise you. It will surely prevent a communication disaster.

The most effective communication helps an audience solve a problem or achieve a goal. Figure out what that is and deliver. An audience assessment doesn’t have to be complicated. For assistance in conducting a needs assessment, see Want to know the secret to creating better content? Know your audience.

What is current?

As subject matter experts, it is our responsibility to keep up-to-date on research, trends, and hot topics in our area of professional expertise. When asked to communicate on a topic, unless an audience is totally uninformed and needs to start with background information, one way to narrow our focus is to concentrate on what is new. Help them make sense of emerging research and separate fads from facts.

Do you need help understanding the research and translating it for a lay audience? Refer to Section 2 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide. Key concepts from this book are in the post: Want strong messages that make a difference? Build them on solid evidence.

What is confusing or controversial?

In addition to covering current information, consider the most common misconceptions and misunderstandings within an audience. Make it a goal to clear up the confusion and provide clarity.

Controversies can be another topic to consider. Are there two sides to the story or conflicting viewpoints? If so, present the evidence (or lack thereof) in support of each one, and describe the common ground as well as where they differ. Help the audience be discerning.

What fits in the allotted time or space?

Every communication is limited in length, whether it is measured in time or space. If a speech has 50 minutes allotted and the speaker prepares 2 hours of content, the audience won’t hang around for the end. If an article has an allowed word count of 1,000 words and the author writes 2,000, the editor will be in control of what is included.

Be mindful of your limits and use the answers to the previous questions to determine the breadth and depth of your coverage. Less can be more. Learn how wordiness can weigh down your message.

Is this something I care about?

Finally, communicate about topics you not only know about but also care about. Passion for a topic shows. Enthusiasm is evident and contagious. If you are not thrilled to learn more about a topic and feel inspired to tell others about it, refer to someone who is. If you don’t care about your topic, don’t expect your audience to.

Find this list of questions and dozens of other free tips.

“Good things happen when you narrow your focus.” ~ Al Ries

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