analysing your audience for a speech

The Best Guide to Audience Analysis

What Is Audience Analysis?

Audience analysis involves identifying the audience and adapting a speech to their interests, level of understanding, attitudes, and beliefs. Taking an audience-centered approach is important because a speaker’s effectiveness will be improved if the presentation is created and delivered appropriately.

Why Is Audience Analysis Important?

The preparation of a presentation is a hectic process in itself, let alone the process of audience analysis. And often people left the analysis thinking that it would be managed on stage. But in most cases, it cannot be managed because the audience is the one dynamic quotient of a presentation we often ignore. Here is why it is so important:

Why is audience analysis important?

Better Communication

Once you know your audience properly, you will be able to communicate in a better way. If you have a teenage audience forum, you have to relate to them to make your presentation more attractive by probably communicating in an informal way whereas if you are talking to a corporate audience, you might want to communicate in a slightly more formal way. The same aspect applies in the case of other age groups as well.

Better Presentation

You cannot arbitrarily prepare your presentation. Having a strong understanding of what your audience needs and desires will help you determine purpose in your speech. This will lead to your presentation having a better structure and flow making your entire speech more effective and easy to comprehend.

The Audience will Understand You Better

In a presentation, it is not enough that you understand your audience, but it is important for your audience to understand you. This is called the ‘Audience Expectation.’

If you cannot meet the audience’s expectations, what’s the point besides maybe a little stage practice?

In a presentation, it is not enough that you understand your audience, but it is important for your audience to understand YOU.

Finding Common Ground

The more you find out about your audience, the more you can adapt your message to the interests, values, beliefs, and language level of the audience. Once you collect data about your audience, you are ready to summarize your findings and select the language and structure that is best suited to your particular audience. 

You are on a journey to find common ground in order to identify with your audience. One of the most useful strategies for adapting your topic and message for them is to use the process of identification. 

For example, what do you and your audience have in common? And, conversely, how are you different? What ideas or examples in your speech can your audience identify with? These questions can make your speech more persuasive and can help you in forming a relation with your listeners.

Audience Analysis Checklist

Here is a quick checklist for you to know what you need to know and analyse about your audience:

  1. Situational analysis: Captive or Voluntary
  2. Demographic analysis: Age, Gender, Geography, Race, Ethnicity, Marital status, Occupational background,
  3. Psychographic analysis: Personalities, Lifestyle, Values, Fears, Success Story, Limiting Beliefs
  4. Knowledge of topic
  5. Attitude toward topic
  6. In relation to your speech

We’ve broken it down in detail below…

Types of Audience Analysis

Types Of Audience Analysis

No matter which of the above inquiry methods you choose to do your audience analysis, you will, at some point, need to direct your attention to the five “categories” of audience analysis. These are the five categories through which you will learn to better appreciate your audience. Let’s now examine these categories and understand the variables and constraints you should use to estimate your audience’s information requirements.

Situational Analysis

The situational audience analysis category considers the situation for which your audience is gathered.

This category is primarily concerned with why your audience is assembled in the first place. Are they willingly gathered to hear you speak? Have your audience members paid to hear you? Or, are your audience members have somehow been socially or systematically coerced into hearing you? 

These factors are decisively important because they place a major responsibility upon you as a speaker, whichever is the case. The entire tone and agenda of your speech rest largely upon whether or not your audience even wants to hear from you.

CAPTIVE AUDIENCE

Many audiences are considered captive audiences in that they have no real choice regarding the matter of hearing a given speech. In general, these are some of the most difficult audiences to address because these members are being forced to listen to a message, and do not have the full exercise of their own free will.

VOLUNTARY AUDIENCE

A voluntary audience is willingly assembled to listen to a given message. As a rule, these audiences are much easier to address because they are interested in hearing the speech.

Sometimes audiences are mixed in their situational settings, too. Take the everyday classroom situation, for instance. While students choose to attend higher education, many people in the college classroom environment sadly feel as if they are still “trapped” in school and would rather be elsewhere.

On the other hand, some students in college are truly there by choice, and attentively seek out knowledge from their teacher-mentors. What results from this mixed audience situation is a hybrid captive-voluntary audience, with those who are only partially interested in what is going on in the classroom and those who are genuinely involved.

You literally get to hone your speaking skills on both types of audiences, thereby learning a skill set that many never get to exercise. You should begin this wonderful opportunity by considering ways to inform, persuade, and humor a mixed situation audience. Think of it as a learning occasion, and you’ll do just fine.

Demographic Analysis

The second category of audience analysis is demography. Demographics are literally a classification of the characteristics of the people. Whenever addressing an audience, it is generally a good idea to know about its age, gender, major, year in school, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, etc.

There are two steps in doing an accurate demographic analysis:

  • Gathering Demographic Data And
  • Interpreting This Data

Sometimes, this information is gathered by the questionnaire sampling method and is done formally. On other occasions, this information is already available in a database and is made available to the speaker.

Some noteworthy speakers even have “scouts” who do demographic research on an audience before a speaking event and make interpretations on that audience based upon key visual cues.

Of course, studying demographic characteristics is, indeed, more an art form than a science. Still, it is a common practice among many professional speakers.

Effect Of Demographics On a Speaker’s Message

Consider for a moment how valuable it would be to you as a public speaker to know that your audience will be mostly female, between the ages of 25 and 40, mostly married and Caucasian. Would you change your message to fit this demographic? Or, would you keep your message the same, no matter the audience you were addressing?

Chances are you would be more inclined to talk to issues bearing upon that gender, age, and race qualities. Frankly,

The smart speaker would shift his or her message to adapt to the audience. And, simply, that’s the purpose of doing demographics: to embed within your message the acceptable parameters of your audience’s range of needs. 

Psychological Analysis

Psychological Analysis

Unless your selected speech topic is a complete mystery to your audience, your listeners will already hold “attitudes, beliefs, and values” toward the ideas you will inevitably present. As a result, it is always important to know where your audience stands on the issues you plan to address ahead of time.

The best way to accomplish this is to sample your audience with a quick questionnaire or survey before the event. This is known as the third category of audience analysis.

When performing a description you seek to identify the audience’s attitudes, beliefs, and values. They are your keys to understanding how your audience thinks.

Apart from this, psychological analysis also includes the fears of your audience and the problems faced by them in life. This information becomes crucial when you are required to persuade your audience into believing your ideas.

Attitudes

In basic terms, an attitude is a learned disposition to respond in a consistently favorable or unfavorable manner with respect to a person, an object, an idea, or an event. Attitudes come in different forms. You are very likely to see an attitude present itself when someone says that they are “pro” or “anti” something. But, above all else, attitudes are learned and aren’t necessarily enduring.

Attitudes can change, and sometimes do, whereas beliefs and values do not shift as easily.

For example, a speaker is speaking about the consumption of alcohol then the reaction of younger people present in the audience will be different from the older people. The younger people might have a positive attitude towards the topic but the older people might have a negative attitude towards the topic. 

Knowledge of topic

Audience knowledge of a topic can vary widely on any given occasion, therefore, communicators should find out what their audience already knows about the topic.

Never overestimate the audience’s knowledge of a topic. If a speaker launches into a technical discussion of genetic engineering but the listeners are not familiar with basic genetics, they will be unable to follow your speech and quickly lose interest. On the other hand, drastically underestimating the audience’s knowledge may result in a speech that sounds condescending.

Try to do some research to find out what the audience already knows about the topic. Giving a brief review of important terms and concepts is almost always appropriate, and can sometimes be done by acknowledging the heterogeneous audience and the importance of ‘putting everyone on the same page.’ For example, even if the audience members were familiar with basic genetics, a brief review of key terms and concepts at the beginning of a speech refreshes memories without being patronizing.

Some type of audience may want to have any additional information after the presentation is done given to them in the forms of notes, videos or handouts so that they can refer to them.

Attitude toward topic

Knowing audience members’ attitudes about a topic will help a speaker determine the best way to reach their goals.

Imagine that a presenter is trying to convince the community to build a park.

A speaker would probably be inclined to spend the majority of the speech giving reasons why a park would benefit the community.

However, if they found out ahead of time that most neighbors thought the park was a good idea but they were worried about safety issues, then the speaker could devote their time to showing them that park users would be safer than they currently are playing in the streets. The persuasive power of the speech is thus directed at the most important impediment to the building of a park.

In relation to your speech

How can you solve their problems? How are you going to make their lives better? Point to benefits you know they’ll care about. These questions should also be addressed in your speech. They help in forming a better understanding with your audience. Apart from this, you must also tell your audience about their importance in your plan.

What do you want them to do? What’s their part in your plan? Make sure there’s a clear action for your audience to take.

How to go about analyzing audience?

How to go about analyzing an audience?

The audience can be tricky, and in such a sense, everyone is. It is not minutely possible to impress all of your audience just in one shot. But if you want to do that, you have to achieve that step by step.

If you are a known presenter, it is quite expected that 10% to 12% of people will already be impressed by you, 40% still is not and waiting for you to impress them and the rest 48% simply do not care (Source). Still, it is not a process of wastage; rather you can convert their willingness a little by little.

It is not minutely possible to impress all of your audience just in one shot. But if you want to do that, you have to achieve that step by step.

But how do you go about finding this information?

Advance research

Advance research is always a great option to know your audience in good depth. It falls under the first category of audience analysis. Before the presentation, you can interact with your higher officials to gather knowledge about what kind of audience you will be representing your presentation to. This could be done by understanding the audience from the person who invited you to speak, through giving out surveys (as mentioned earlier in the article) or (if the audience is of not-too-large-a-size) LinkedIn.

Greet them personally

People tend to judge you whenever you are at a distance. If you greet them at the door or try to make a little conversation with them at the start of your presentation personally, it would be the best way to start your audience analysis. In this way, you can impress them by giving them a first glance at you while gathering key insights.

Call & Response method

If, for whatever reason, you could not gather any data from the audience before your speech has begun, key insights can be brought while you are on stage as well using something called the Call & Response method.

This method simply means that you ask a question to the audience which can be answered with a show of hands to understand majorities in the room. For example, if I am giving a speech on business and I want to understand how many people have never tried their hand at starting their own business, I would simply ask (The Call) for a show of hands and the audience would respond by raising up their hands (The Response). This would then allow me to tweak my talking points. If majority of my audience has never started a business, I would need to spend some more time talking about the importance of trying and failing in business (for example).

Keep in mind though that this is a slightly advanced technique as you are required to manoeuvre your speech content on the spot. Do not do it if you do not speak in front of crowds often or are feeling extremely nervous as it could hamper your delivery.

How To Use Audience Analysis In Your Speech?

How To Use Audience Analysis In Your Speech?

A good audience analysis takes time, though, preparation, implementation, and processing. If done well, it will yield information that will help you interact effectively with your audience. 

Professional speakers, corporate executives, sales associates, and entertainers all rely on audience analysis to connect with their listeners. So do political candidates, whose chances of gaining votes depend on crafting the message and mood to appeal to each specific audience. 

One audience might be preoccupied with jobs, another with property taxes, and another with a crime. Similarly, your audience analysis should help you identify the interests of your audience. Ultimately, a successful audience analysis can guide you in preparing the basic content of your speech and help you adjust your speech “on the fly.” 

Prepare Content with Your Audience in Mind

The first thing a good audience analysis can do is help you focus your content on your specific audience.

If you are planning on delivering a persuasive speech on why people should become vegans and you find out through analysis that half of your audience are daughters and sons of cattle ranchers, you need to carefully think through your approach to the content. Maybe you’ll need to tweak your topic to focus on just the benefits of veganism without trying to persuade the audience explicitly.

The last thing you want to do as a speaker is standing before an audience who is highly negative toward your topic before you ever open your mouth. While there will always be some naysayers in any audience, if you think through your topic with your audience in mind, you may be able to find a topic that will be both interesting to you as a speaker and beneficial to your audience as well.

In addition to adjusting the topic of your speech before the speaking event, you can also use your audience analysis to help ensure that the content of your speech will be as clear and understandable as humanly possible. We can use our audience analysis to help sure that we are clear.

One area of clarity to be careful of is the use of idioms your audience may not know. An idiom is a word or phrase where the meaning cannot be predicted from normal, dictionary definitions. Many idioms are culturally or temporally based.

For example, the phrase “according to Hoyle” indicates that something is done “by the book” or “by the rules,” as in “These measurements aren’t according to Hoyle, but they’re close enough to give a general idea.” Most of us have no clue who Hoyle was or what this idiom means.

It refers to Edmond Hoyle, who wrote some of the most popular card-playing rule books back in the 1700s in England. Today, card game enthusiasts may understand the intent of “according to Hoyle,” but for most people, it no longer carries a specific meaning. When thinking about your speech, be careful not to accidentally use idioms that you find commonplace but your audience may not.

Adjusting Your Speech Based on Your Analysis

In addition to using audience analysis to help formulate speech content, we can also use our audience analysis to make adjustments during the actual speech. These adjustments can pertain to the audience and the physical setting.

The feedback you receive from your audience during your speech is a valuable indication of ways to adjust your presentation.

If you’re speaking after lunch and notice audience members looking drowsy, you can make adjustments to liven up the tone of your speech. You could use humor. You could raise your voice slightly. You could pose some questions and ask for a show of hands to get your listeners actively involved.

As another example, you may notice from frowns and headshaking that some listeners aren’t convinced by the arguments you are presenting. In this case, you could spend more time on a specific area of your speech and provide more evidence than you originally intended.

Adjusting Your Speech Based on Your audience Analysis

Good speakers can learn a lot by watching their audience while speaking and then make specific adjustments to both the content and delivery of the speech to enhance the speech’s ultimate impact.

The second kind of adjustment has to do with the physical setting for your speech.

For example, your situational analysis may reveal that you’ll be speaking in a large auditorium when you had expected a nice, cozy conference room. If you’ve created visual aids for a small, intimate environment, you may have to omit them or tell your listeners that they can view them after the presentation.

You may also need to account for a microphone. If you’re lucky enough to have a cordless microphone, then you won’t have to make too many adjustments to your speaking style.

If, on the other hand, the microphone is corded or is attached to an unmovable podium, you’ll have to make adjustments to how you deliver the presentation.

In preparing a speech about wealth distribution in the United States, one of our students had the opposite problem. Anticipating a large room, she had planned to use a one-hundred-foot tape measure to illustrate the percentage of the nation’s wealth owned by the top one-fifth of the population. 

However, when she arrived she found that the room was only twelve by twenty feet so that she had to walk back and forth zigzagging the tape from end to end to stretch out one hundred feet. Had she thought more creatively about how to adapt to the physical setting, she could have changed her plans to use just ten feet of the tape measure to symbolize 100 percent of the wealth

Summary

In summary, use your knowledge of the audience to adapt your speech accordingly. Adopt the perspective of the audience to identify with them, and test out your ideas with an imagined audience composed of people with the background you have discovered through your research.

Hrideep Barot

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.

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