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Reaching Hard to Reach Audiences

Thursday, October 22, 2020 8:04 AM | Jan Szmanda

By: Amy Johnson

When you read the words ‘hard-to-reach’ to describe an audience, what comes to mind?

When I proposed my upcoming coffee chat for ATD-MAC in the beginning of the year, I was thinking about our third shift, hard-to-reach primarily due to their resistance in workshops. Working with them often brings me back to my first career in the mid-90s in North San Diego County alternative classrooms where a young community health educator who, despite her amateur efforts and love for the audience, found herself often banging her head against a lot of walls. Why. won’t. they. listen!?

It took more years of experience with ‘underserved’ populations, a degree in mental health counseling, exposure to Diversity and Inclusion conversations and some educational theory to better grasp why they weren’t listening. I still have more to learn, and continue to get stuck on “Now…what’s our strategy?”   

Who is your hard-to-reach audience? The first step to reaching a hard-to-reach audience is defining who that is for you. Is it a time or physical barrier that your learners need to overcome? Or is it more deeply rooted; resistance to learning and difficulty with the material? Define what it means to better map your next steps.   

Is it you? Next, are you making it ‘hard-to-reach’? Labeling your audience can be subjective. Admittedly one of the “hard” parts with third shift came from my hesitation to create a separate program for them. I was already doing this to accommodate different levels of leadership and given that I was the sole L&D provider at the time, my lack of time and energy were legitimate barriers. Yet third shift had a distinctly different job, audience and learning needs. It was easier for me to call them a “tough audience” and put their program on the back burner than to admit my workload and desire to be in bed by 10 pm heavily influenced my ability to reach them.

Is it your material? By design, a good portion of L&D materials have the office setting and a 9-5 schedule in mind. Workshops, PowerPoints, and spaghetti towers work great for some positions, but can miss the mark with those in manufacturing, health care settings or if English is a second language. Are our design and delivery methods inclusive?

Is it your system? When a 3rd Shift Supervisor joined our Leadership Development program held during the day, his Manager was (gratefully) flexible and gave him the night before and after off to adjust and get some sleep. This created the need to find back up for three-days on an already stretched crew. The shift system, running raw product, and multiple factors don’t allow for participants to easily pull away to learn. Nor, in some cases, is upper management on board to allow for that. What in your systems prevents you from consistently or appropriately reaching certain audiences? 

Now…what’s our strategy? Join me on Thursday, Oct. 22nd for a cup of coffee and a conversation about Reaching Hard to Reach Audiences. We will define what ‘hard-to-reach’" means for us and exchange tips and tricks to working with hard-to-reach audiences and non-traditional learners in Leadership/Learning & Development programs.

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