Why You Must Connect with Your Audience

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My heart sank as I saw the red flashing lights in my rearview mirror.


“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the officer asked.


I knew exactly what I had done: an illegal U-turn at a major intersection. Of course, what I hadn’t known was that there was an LAPD squad car across the street who watched the whole thing.


“Where are you going?” he asked next.


“Compton,” I replied.


He paused and looked at me with raised eyebrows.


(Do you remember the 2015 movie Straight Outta Compton, about the gangsta rap group N.W.A.? Yeah, it was that Compton.)


“Compton? What do you have going on in Compton?” he pressed. I’m sure I didn’t exactly look like a local.


“Heading to class.” I explained that I was a teacher at a particular school in south-central Los Angeles (which again made his eyebrows go up – think East Harlem or the South Bronx), and I was getting my master’s in education at the Cal State campus down there at night, because it was the closest campus to the school where I was teaching during the day.


Unfortunately, I had missed my turn, and if I had gone all the way down to the next legal turn, I would have been late to my class… which, ironically, was now guaranteed.


The officer stared back at me for what felt like forever, and finally let out a long, deep sigh, shaking his head.


“Do you know how long it’s going to take me to cancel this (ticket) out? I already started writing it.”


“Oh my gosh, I’m sorry to make extra paperwork for you, but thank you so much! May someone do you a good deed today!”


“No more illegal U-Turns, okay?” was the last thing he said.


We nodded in acknowledgement to each other before he turned back to his car and I drove off, heaving a sigh of relief… despite now being really late to class.


If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait, what?? You talked your way out of a partially written ticket? Impossible!” The answer is yes; it was a miracle, but I actually did.


Now that was a long time ago (in my “former life,”) but here’s the thing: some things don’t change. One of those, in particular, is that in a lot of cities, cops and teachers have a mutual understanding and respect.


A friend of mine who was a police officer liked to say that the only difference between us was that he was allowed to carry a gun on the job to protect himself.


We share the experience of working in dangerous neighborhoods, against great odds, overworked and underpaid, trying to help children and families who are facing incredible challenges of poverty, drugs, violence, homelessness, gangs, hunger, and all flavors of trauma.


This week on the Speaking to Influence podcast I had the honor of interviewing Sheriff Errol Toulon from Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. Founded in 1683 (yes, you read that right too), it’s the oldest law enforcement agency in New York, and he is the first African American elected to the position.



In this episode, Sheriff Toulon expressed that his favorite part of the job is when he gets to talk to children and youth. He loves addressing individual groups of students and whole schools at once, talking to them about issues like bullying, vaping, opioids and gangs, all themes that seem to permeate way too many of our schools throughout the country. Helping them make good decisions, early in life, inspires hope.


We explored how communication, like any tool from a car to the internet, can be used for good or for evil. One of Sheriff Toulon’s greatest challenges is how gangs use communication for evil, which goes against the very core of everything he is trying to accomplish.


A major messaging effort for him now is about one of his greatest initiatives in the department, namely, bringing in a robust group of service providers to work with people who were formerly incarcerated, to help them reintegrate as productive and self-sufficient members of society.


In order to achieve this outcome, Sheriff Toulon also shared how as an authority figure he needs to adjust his communication style from audience to audience, whether addressing his constituents, staff members, community partners or young kids.


In sensitive issues like reintegration, skepticism is understandably high, so widespread buy-in from all stakeholder groups in the community is essential for success.


Listen to the whole conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.


And speaking of success – great news: Once again, the Speaking to Influence podcast has broken the Top 200 business podcasts (management) on iTunes/Apple Podcasts – specifically, last week we hit #151!



A huge heart-felt thanks to all of you who continue to subscribe and listen. It’s because of you that we keep achieving new heights. Please help us stay in that top tier! To do that, all you need to do is one or more of the following:


  • SUBSCRIBE here on your favorite platform (Apple podcasts, Spotify, Castbox, other)
  • LISTEN to the full episode each week
  • SHARE with someone you know who would love our conversations and get a huge benefit from learning to communicate more effectively
  • RATE (ideally with 5 stars)and leave us a quick one-sentence REVIEW telling everyone why you love it!


Thanks again for all your support, so we can continue to help even more people around the world increase their confidence, presence and influence!

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