Audience Analysis

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Written By Jim Peterson

Jim Peterson has over 20 years experience on speech writing. He wrote over 300 free speech topic ideas and how-to guides for any kind of public speaking and speech writing assignments at My Speech Class.

Adapting to Your Audience and Situation

At every point in the speech-making process, you need to ask yourself: “Self, what does my audience want from me?” It is the audience and situation, and not you (the speaker), that should determine the object and form of your speech.

Audience Expectations

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To that end, your first goal is to meet audience expectations. Probably the most important of these is their time expectation for your speech. If you fall significantly short of that time, they will feel shortchanged. If you go significantly beyond that time, they will feel murderous. Make sure that you don’t violate the audience’s time expectation.

The next audience expectation to worry about is their topic expectation. Have they been told that you will speak on a certain topic? If so, you need to stick (within reason) to that topic. If you switch topics on them unexpectedly, even a great speech will be met with mixed reviews. People like to know what they’re getting into, and resent the “bait-and-switch”.

The final audience expectation to worry about is their tone expectation. Do they anticipate a funny speech? A deathly serious speech? Something in between? Once again, deviating significantly from their expectations will spell disaster for your speech.

Audience Needs

Once you know what your audience expects from you, you need to learn some more about them in order to customize the speech to their needs. Of course, the standard demographic information comes in to play here, characteristics like: age, education, gender, race, occupation, economic status, and religion. These characteristics are important to know and understand because they can greatly impact a person’s experience and perspective. You need to approach your speech with the audience’s experience and perspective in mind.

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At this point you also need to gather some additional information about your audience. You need to find out:

How much do they know about your topic? Will you be able to discuss advanced or technical information, or do you have to start with the basics? This can be tricky, you will lose the audience’s interest if you tell them what they already know or speak “over their heads”.

What other speakers have they heard? You don’t want to cover a topic that’s already been exhausted or step on the toes of the next speaker. If other people are speaking to this audience, it is critical to know what those other speakers are speaking on.

What are the audience member’s attitudes and motivations? Are they attending the speech by choice? If not, some extra motivation may be required (see the article on writing introductions). Are they against what you’re speaking about, neutral towards it, or for it? You must know all of this before you begin crafting your speech.

Analyzing Audience for Selecting a Speech Topic

In any speech situation it’s important to analyze your audience, naturally. This is never more important, though, than it is in a persuasive speaking situation.

There are a couple questions that you need to ask yourself after you’ve selected a persuasive speech topic:

1. Does my audience agree or disagree with the position which I am advocating?

If they already tend to agree with you, you’ve got things a little bit easier, of course. The only problem here might be that your topic and position may not be controversial or novel enough to hold the audience’s interest. It might be a fine topic, though, and it will be your goal to convince your audience that the position which they support is the correct position.

If your audience disagrees with your perspective, you’ve probably got a little more work to do. We’ll get back to that…

2. How much does my audience care about my topic and how much thought are they willing to put into my speech?

If the audience doesn’t really care a whole lot about your topic, it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand (or edge), they are going to be easier to persuade. On the other hand, you may not have picked a good topic if it isn’t an important issue to your audience. Again, if you believe in the topic, go with it.

If the audience really cares a lot about your topic, you’re not going to be able to win them over with flimsy persuasive tactics and logical fallacies. They are going to need to hear solid arguments and evidence in support of your perspective to be persuaded.

The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle identified three tactics which persuasive speakers had available to persuade an audience, which he called Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

Ethos: Aristotle said that if an audience wasn’t particularly interested in and willing to think about the topic at hand that a speaker could be persuasive simply by demonstrating to the audience that they were someone who was both credible and trustworthy. The idea was that this type of audience wouldn’t be sufficiently motivated to think deeply about the topic, and that they would be inclined to blindly accept whatever the speaker had to say. After all, the speaker is credible and trustworthy, right?

For some strategies on establishing Ethos, check out the article on writing introductions.

Pathos: Aristotle said that if, again, an audience wasn’t particularly interested in and willing think about the topic at hand that a speaker could be persuasive by using various emotional appeals to win over an audience. A few examples of Pathos appeals:

  • Appeal to Fear – The speaker arouses fear in the audience by describing something bad that could happen, then tells the audience that the can be relieved of that fear by simply doing what the speaker desires.
  • Appeal to Social Support – The speaker tells the audience that their perspective is a popular one. The audience is supposed to think that because the position is so popular, it must have some merit.
  • Appeal to Scarcity – The speaker shows the audience how they can get some more of a scarce commodity (usually time or money) by doing what the speaker desires.
  • Appeal to Authority – The speaker tells the audience that people “in the know” support the speaker’s perspective.

There are many more Pathos appeals.

  1. Evoke an emotional response on recognizable family, community or neighborhood matters. Tell a story or use a narrative in your persuasive speeches.
  2. Provoke anger in the listener, stir them up to be as angry as you are.
  3. Make a promise, and ensure they can count on your efforts – adoratio
  4. Suggest something that looks impossible, and explain that it isn’t impossible to accomplish at all – this called adynaton.
  5. Make an exaggerated comparison between two ideas, and state which one is the best option to choose.
  6. Act as if you are being overwhelmed with emotions when you talk about a special theme – also known as aposiopesis.
  7. Address the people who are not there in the public, give the listeners a we-feeling – in rhetorical terms: apostrophe.
  8. Make clear something is threatening the audience and describe what will happen if they don’t agree.
  9. Predict an evil prophecy or vision and the dangerous effects and impact in the future – the ominatio
  10. Describe how the consequences of the suggested acts and changes will influence their life – scientists named this descriptio.
  11. Make an imaginatively emotional exclamation – here comes the tongue twister: ecphonesis.
  12. Show and proof how they are emotionally affected by the subject and the surrounding effects – energiais the word.
  13. Make a verbal mistake on purpose and correct yourself – a Freudian slip, called epanorthosis.
  14. Ask provocative or indictive rhetorical questions and give simple and convincing answers – epiplexis.
  15. Transform a boring aspect of your persuasive writing topic into exciting main point – excitatio.
  16. Stir the audience by showing fiery feelings, let them follow you in your enthusiasm and spirit – exuscitatio.
  17. Ask your public for help and valuable ideas, called mempsis, after you have stated there is a threat, which is the pathos technique of perclusio.
  18. Repetitionis one of the most powerful forms of pathos in presentations. You can use this art of persuasion to enlarge the spectrum and context of the beliefs, values, and understandings in persuasive speeches.

Logos: Finally, Aristotle said that if an audience really cared about an issue and were motivated to think deeply about it, that the only way they were going to be persuaded was through the use of sound logical argument.

In it’s most basic form, a logical argument is a claim supported by evidence. In most cases, when you see a lawyer speaking in a courtroom, they are making a logos appeal to the audience (the jury). The “claim” which the lawyer is making is the innocence or guilt of the person on trial. The “evidence”, of course, is the support that the lawyer offers to back up their claim.

Your persuasive speech should follow the same process. Your “claim” is the position you support, your “evidence” is the various facts, stories, statistics, expert testimony, and other backing that demonstrates that your position is the position which the audience should also support.

Secrets to Build a Tie to the Audience

You need to build a tie to your audience, win them over, make a connection and you will win the game. So, how do you make that connection?

There are a few guidelines that are very effective. You just need to find the ones that are good for you in the next paragraphs.

Address Their Needs 
Address your audience’s needs and tie your public speaking speech into that.

This works on two levels:

  • One, it shows that you not only recognize, but also address those needs.
  • And two, it speaks directly to them, making it personal.

When you get personal, you get your audience engaged. E.g. A teenager who purchases music online may feel pulled into the speech topics if you talk about the impact that illegal downloading of music has not only on the musicians but on the fans as well.

At this time, the most popular musicians and singers are from several generations ago. This is because the musician’s work is being downloaded illegally and they lose that valuable tracking device because illegal downloads are not tracked.

Address Their Interests 
What interests your audience? Find a common interest in your audience and play on that. Make statements and expressions that will speak directly to your audience.

Show Them The Benefits 
Show your audience what they will get out of listening to your public speaking speech. What benefits come directly to them? By showing the benefits of your public speaking topic, you have made a huge step in the direction of selling your central idea to your audience.

Show How Your Information Can Be Useful 
You want to show your audience how they can use the information. It has to apply to them and they must feel that they are engaged in order for it to work.

Make sure that you show your listeners that all the information you present is useful, handy and above all that it pertains (in)directly to them.

Try to find the benefits and even solutions for problems they have, although I admit that it may not be necessarily easy to find useful things – I call it communicational education bullets – for your listeners in your public speaking speech, particularly when it comes to specific cultures and individuals.

Like Attracts Like 
One thing to remember is that like attracts like. This means that if your audience is upper class with expensive cars and million dollar homes, you want to mimic them as much as possible. Use the expressions that they would use in your public speaking speech, dress the way that they do and assume body language that is as close to theirs as possible.

People respond very favorable to others who have the same hair color, body size, eye color and even how they put their hands in their pockets. It is an amazing science, but it is possible to sway your audience in your own direction.

Dealing With Difficult People In Your Audience

Dealing with difficult people during your conversation and after a Question and Answer session could be hard when there are hecklers and know-it-alls. I assist you to detect those individuals and offer you ways out to cure the situation you fear for. How you deal with a person who is giving you a hard time depends on what kind of person it is! There are several different types of personalities and egos, and for each are a good methods to head them off.

There are some things that you can do in that case:

Dealing with difficult people starts from the beginning of your presentation.

Announce that you will have a question period at the end of your presentation and that all questions will be answered then. When it comes time to answer questions or take comments let everyone know that they need to raise their hands.

That way no one gets cut off. Once you do that you ready to give your presentation talk.

Heading off each personality type is pretty easy too. Dealing with difficult people is a piece of cake when you’ve detected them:

The Heckler

You know this person. They have some remark about everything you say. Sounds familiar, isn’t it? Here’s how to deal with hecklers:

  1. You could ask them to leave, but that’s not always possible. The best way is to take the wind out of their sails.
  2. If you comment on what they are saying, bring it back to your speech topics. Or even better turn the tables on them by asking them what they think about the public speaking field of reference at hand. That will turn the tables on them and will put them on the spot.

The I-Know-It-All Grumbler

There is one in every group. They think that they know everything about everything, including your speech topics.

If this is a group that you have worked with before you know who the person is and you can reduce their damage to your presentation.

But if you don’t know who that person is before you get started, you will find out soon.

They are eager enough to spoil your talk and step forward in the first minutes.

  1. The best method for dealing with difficult people who claim to know everything is to involve them.
  2. Take them serious and ask them what they think of the speech idea, how they understand it, and what they think should be done about the situation.

Public speaking may be one of the most stressful things that you can do, but it doesn’t have to be. Using simple techniques you can conquer your anxiety, give a great speech and succeed in dealing with difficult people

You will also be able to deal with anyone who gives you problems because you feel confident in yourself and public speaking efforts.

You might even enjoy speaking in public or even look forward to it, and you canbecome an excellent and relaxed motivational speaker in the end.

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