How to make sure your message is relevant

17 Nov 2021

Relevance is the first thing to consider when communicating with business teams (read more about the Four steps to communicating with business teams). If a message isn’t relevant to the audience it doesn’t matter how relatable, simple or jargon free it is. Irrelevant messages are, well, irrelevant. And audience don’t pay much attention to irrelevant things.

This leads to common frustrations:

  • Business: Why are you telling me about this? or What has this got to do with me?
  • IT: You need to know this, why don’t you understand that?

How do you know if your message is relevant?

Relevance is determined by impact. If a topic has no impact on the audience, it usually isn’t relevant to them.

Making sure a message is relevant and making the impact clear isn’t about what we think. It is about what the audience thinks. Everything we want to say is relevant to us. We generally don’t talk about things that aren’t important, or entertaining for us. The trouble is, if something is relevant for us it isn’t automatically relevant for other people. Not only that, but even when a topic is relevant for other people it might not be obvious why it is relevant to them.

When talking to business teams the first step is to make sure your message is relevant to the them. You can do this by considering the impact and timing of the message, as well as the level of the audience.

Relevance is determined by impact, level and timing

For a topic to be relevant, and for the audience to understand why it is relevant to them, it must meet three criteria.

  • Impact: How and when does the topic impact them?
  • Level: Is the impact appropriate for the audience’s level?
  • Timing: Is this the right time to communicate about this topic?


Impact provides automatic relevance for a message. If your message impacts the person you are talking to it is automatically relevant to them. Impacts cause change, and change means people usually have to take action. It may be a change in activity, outcome, people, goals, or any number of things. Know how your message impacts the person you are talking to and make that clear early on.


Relevant messages must match the level of the audience. We can define audience level in two ways;

  • The level of their job in the organization structure
  • The level of knowledge they have in the topic you want to communicate

The further you are from your audience’s job level or expertise the harder you must work to show relevance. Even if you know the topic impacts the audience you must still make it clear to them. Describe the impact in relation to their level in the organization, not in relation to your level.

For example, a code defect might mean a project delay. If you are describing the issue to the CEO don’t talk about the impact of failed test cases on the team’s timeline. Instead you need to talk about the impact of the timeline on the business objective. The impact is the same — a delay — but the CEO cares about the company impact not the team level impact. Likewise, if you are talking to the testing team, the impact is the need to do more testing. The overall product delivery is less likely to impact them.


A topic delivered at the wrong time loses relevance. This is true even if you describe the impact at the right level. The further away your topic is from the topic of the current discussion the less relevant it is. Also, the further your topic is away from the purpose of the current discussion the less relevant it is.

For example. You are in a planning meeting for project A. Is it the right time to talk about defects on project X? Probably not. The focus of the discussion is project A. If you talk about project X, even if it impacts the people in the room, it doesn’t impact the topic being discussed.

Make the relevance clear to the audience

The impact might be obvious to you but don’t assume the audience feels the same. Clear communication leaves no room for assumptions. Make the relevance clear for your audience by stating it early in your message. A statement like ‘You need to know this because…’ or ‘This change will impact you because…’ can help. These will make sure everyone is clear on the impact.


People pay attention to information that impacts them. But only if they understand how and why it impacts them. Make it clear when you speak why the message is relevant to the audience. Define the impact at the right level for the audience and do it at an appropriate time.

If you do this, business teams will pay attention when you speak.

Learn more with my online course

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  • Communicate effectively with people in different teams
  • Discover how to create relevant messages your audience can relate to and understand
  • Simplify complex ideas and communicate in a way that is jargon-free


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