One of the advantages of studying public speaking and improving your own skills is that you become much more aware of what other speakers do. In one respect, we are able to look for ways to emulate what they do—for example, how they might seamlessly incorporate stories or examples into their speaking, or how they might use transitions to help audiences follow the speech’s logic. In another respect, we become aware of how a speaker might use dramatic delivery or emotional appeals to hide a lack of facts or logic. A course in public speaking should include ways to improve one’s listening to public speaking.
This chapter will look at the audience from both sides of the lectern, so to speak. First it will examine how a presenter can fully understand the audience, which will aid the speaker in constructing the approach and content of the speech. Secondly, this chapter will examine the public speaker as audience member and how to get the most out of a speech, even if the topic does not seem immediately interesting.
As discussed in Chapter 1, we have Paul Watzlawick, Janet Beavin, and Don Jackson (1967) to thank for pointing out to us that communication always involves a content dimension and a relationship dimension. Nowhere does that become more important than when we look into what is commonly known as audience analysis. Their concept about content and relationship dimension will guide this chapter. You are not using the speech to dump a large amount of content on the audience; you are making that content important, meaningful, and applicable to them. Additionally, the way the audience perceives you and your connection to them—such as whether there is mutual trust and respect—will largely determine your success with the audience. The speaker must respect the audience as well as the audience trusting the speaker.