Back in another life, I spent a couple of years doing academic research into infant language development. Most of these experiments involved a baby or child hearing a recorded or live presentation of scripted language, and then doing some thing or another, depending on the experiment.

One experiment I led was designed to explore what linguists call “infant-directed speech”. It’s that sing-songy way we talk to babies, usually without even realizing we’re doing it: our average pitch goes up, and we increase the overall range of pitch we use – hence the sing-songy part – and we speak more slowly and use simpler words.

There was one major hurdle we needed to cross in developing the audio stimuli for this experiment – and that was that we adults pretty much only speak authentic infant-directed speech when we’re actually talking to a baby. But when recording stimuli for a scientific experiment, you need to eliminate all background noise – you can’t have a baby gurgling or moving around or cooing or screaming in the background. To approximate this as best we could, we taped a photo of an adorable baby in front of the microphone, and made sure the person recording the audio looked at it the whole time she was speaking.

I thought of this yesterday while I was writing an email about some consulting I’m going to do with an academic team, to help them figure out a social-media strategy for a major web-based program they’re going to launch soon. They’ll need to reach a wide variety of people, and so they’re going to need to use channels and styles that will effectively reach them all.

Maybe I’ll suggest they keep a photo or drawing of each kind of person up on the wall, so they can address them effectively as they write their posts.

Sounds silly, but I bet it’d help.