Which perspective should you chose—I, we, you, or they—for your communication?
The point of view—first, second or third person—sets a tone and affects how audiences relate to the message. That’s why thoughtful writers and speakers take great pains to select the best approach and transition, when appropriate, from one voice to another smoothly.
Consider the following fundamental characteristics of each to determine which point of view to present to your audience:
First Person, Singular - I
Engagement & Risk Potential: High
- Allows communicators to share information, experiences, and ideas from a personal, in-the-know standpoint. Having lived alongside villagers of this remote region for the past year, I have uncovered three dietary secrets to longevity.
- Gives audiences the sense that they are special. I can’t thank you enough for your generous support of the foundation.
- Fortifies the communicator’s responsibility. I personally guarantee utmost satisfaction.
- Potentially makes the communicator seem self-absorbed. I earned the award for the past three years.
- If members of the audience disagree with the message, then they are likely to hold the individual more personally responsible and possibly harbor negative feelings towards him or her.
First Person, Plural – We, Us
Engagement & Risk Potential: Medium to High
- Might convey that the communicator and audience have something in common. We all want the development to lure more tourists to the historic district.
Pro: Enhances audience engagement.
Con: Lost interest and less favor among those who do not agree happen quickly.
- Sometimes infers that the message comes from two or more people, who share responsibility, liability, and/or accomplishments. We have decided to decline the offer. We stand behind our product. We are pleased to have earned the XYZ Award for Excellence.
Second Person – You
Engagement and Risk Potential: High
- Includes questions, which tend to engage people. How long could you go without your phone while on vacation?
- Allows communicators to involve audiences and make them feel important. Your thoughts on the matter are important.
- Makes presumptions about the audience and sometimes feels invasive. This applies to you.
- Often comes across as accusatory or demanding. You must do this.
Third Person – He, She or They
Engagement and Risk Potential: Low to Medium
- Tends to be less intrusive and less presumptive. Many parents have misunderstood the policy.
- Facilitates objectivity. Some adhere to tradition; others welcome change.
- Relies on pertinent, compelling content to engage. At nine o’clock on Monday morning, five years to the day after his funeral, Sam entered his attorney’s office. “I’m back,” he said. “Where’s the money?”
- Often feels detached. Customers of XYZ are always valued and respected.
Keep in mind that certain publications and organizations set criteria for point of view. Third person, for instance, is the standard for formal reports and straight news pieces. First and second person are naturally preferred for private matters.
The grey areas are trickier to navigate.
Yes, they’re vast and often daunting, but also where you’ll find unique and creative opportunities to connect with people. Always consider your audience and the message, and follow your instincts!
My best to you,
Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady