Forget The Audience


Salman Khan created an online learning system, Khan Academy, that is accessed by millions of people all over the world every day.  It has changed peoples’ lives.  His motto: “A free world-class education for anyone anywhere.”   Khan Academy is a great idea because one of the main reasons that both the individual and a society progress is education.

It was such a simple idea born of a desire to help one person. Khan wanted to help his niece who did not live near him, with her math homework, so he videotaped his explanation of the topic on a board while drawing diagrams and spoke to her for 15 minutes about it.  He uploaded it to YouTube so she could easily access it.  (Perhaps the 15 minute lesson size was based on YouTube’s basic time limit, but it turned out to be just perfect.) 

Today, with the help of funding from Bill Gates, Khan Academy lessons come with bells and whistles like analytics and badges for achievement.  But the original idea is what stuck with people. 

Soon after Khan uploaded the video to YouTube for his niece to watch, he noticed that there were hundreds and then thousands of views.  Before long it was clear that he had hit upon something that was worth devoting his life to and he quite his job to build it.

So what is it that makes the lessons so appealing?  Certainly Khan is an excellent teacher.  His lessons are brief, which allows even those with a short attention span to pay attention.  But what is it that people say about the lessons in Khan Academy? 

“I feel like he is speaking directly to me.”

That’s because as he was recording the lesson and uploading it to YouTube, he thought about his audience.  It was one person who he cared about and wanted to help.

If you don’t think it matters what you are thinking when you engage online, think about this. It’s a lesson that many great speakers and writers have learned:  don’t talk to an “audience.”  Have one person in mind when you communicate.  The audience will take that message as a far more personal communication and you will have cracked the code of social media and of communication in many realms.

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