Important Differences between Internal and External Audiences

Michael P. Mooney


Important differences between internal and external audiences that you need to consider when preparing to communicate with them.

Important Differences between Internal and External Audiences

Communication and audiences obviously go hand and hand. A person attempting to communicate without an audience would be better pictured as rehearsing information or self reflecting, but they would hardly be considered to be communicating. For this reason, audiences are just as essential to communication as the message being conveyed. If the people receiving the message are not considered at delivery, then it should be expected that there will likely be a misunderstanding or even worse; a disclosure of private information.

When giving a presentation there are typically two types of audiences, Internal and External. Internal audiences are people within the same association as the communicator. In contrast, External audiences are people outside of the communicators represented organization (Kitty O. Locker, 2007). Failing to recognize the differences in these two categories could not only disrupt the flow of communication, but also may result in unemployment.

Do not share private information. If an External audience is being addressed, it is of the utmost importance to not share confidential information with them, for doing so is to make it public. Many organizations (especially nonprofits) may indeed have an open door policy by sharing their financial statements with the public, but this does not mean that all internal information is public information. On the contrary, just because others are internal audiences does not constitute the sharing of eternal audience’s private information (for example a credit application etc.).

Speak a language that they understand. Many Internal audiences often speak in acronyms that represent company policies, forms, and titles such as the military’s “CEO” standing for “communications electronics officer”. It should be considered and not assumed that an external audience understands the meaning of such terms. To be sure that there is no confusion, it is best to either not use such language with external audiences, or at least define them once during communication. On the other hand, when addressing internal audiences some external slang, figures of speech, and clichés may be misunderstood and or totally inappropriate. In this area, good discretion should be used.

Consider the knowledge base of the recipient (especially in mixed crowds). This is a tricky situation, but good communication demands it. Internal audiences may be well informed about many different subjects and it is important not to bore them with supposed “common sense” or even insult their intelligence. What makes this difficult is the problem of not knowing if everyone knows what “everyone knows”. In addition when reporting “after the fact” information, there is the problem of hindsight bias: “the tendency to exaggerate, after learning an outcome, one’s ability to have foreseen how something turned out” (Myers, 1999, 16). In such situations, sometimes it is better to “review” important details than to assume upon the audience’s knowledge. If addressing a mixed Internal and External crowd, allowing for questions and answers can give a survey of the crowd’s general knowledge, and also allow for someone else to state the obvious.

Assignment questions:

Please explain the differences between internal and external audiences.

How can tailoring your message according to these differences greatly improve the outcome of your audience grasping your message?