Effective public engagement starts with a clear idea of who you want to reach. Many engagement activities fail because the target audience is poorly defined, leaving both the participants and researchers disappointed. While it may be tempting to be inclusive and try to reach everyone, your activities will be more effective if they are targeted at the right people.

Your first step should be to ask the following three key questions.

Who do I want to reach?

Whatever the purpose of your public engagement activities, it is important to define which groups you want to reach. The more tightly these are defined, the easier it will be to develop activities that are relevant, enjoyable and use appropriate communication styles.

If the purpose is to help inform your research, it will be fairly straightforward to identify which groups to involve – you will want to approach those who might directly benefit from your research or who might have lay expertise that could help shape the direction of it.

If you want to target particular groups, such as young people, older people or people within a specific community, define these as tightly as you can – for example: 'I would like to reach young mothers, with qualifications not exceeding A-levels, from a mix of ethnic backgrounds'.

As in marketing, you can also categorise potential audiences using demographic, geographic and psychographic characteristics. Some programmes seek audiences defined by their interests, for example those interested in arts or theatre.

If you want to engage with younger people, you'll need to target your activities according to the age range you're working with. If you are new to working with young people, it is worth getting expert advice from a teacher or from colleagues who have run successful activities with young people. Linking your activity to the national curriculum may help with buy-in from schools. You may also need to get DBS checked.

Why do I want to reach them?

Consider your motives and why you feel this group should be targeted. Knowing why you want to reach a particular group can provide insights that will help develop an effective event.

Why should they be interested in my activity?

Successful events rely on finding a spark or point of relevance that engages the audience. Consider why a particular group would be interested in your findings – this will help you tailor your event to their interests and needs.