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5.1: Approaches to Audience Analysis

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    Whenever thinking about your speech, it is always a good idea to begin with a thorough awareness of your audience and the many factors comprising that particular audience.

    In speech communication, we simply call this “doing an audience analysis.”

    An audience analysis is when you consider all of the pertinent elements defining the makeup and demographic characteristics (also known as demographics) of your audience (McQuail, 1997). We come to understand that there are detailed accounts of human population characteristics, such as age, gender/sec, education and intellect levels, occupation, socio-economic class, religion, political affiliation, language, ethnicity, culture, background knowledge, needs and interests, and previously held attitudes, beliefs, and values.

    Demographics are widely used by advertising and public relations professionals to analyze specific audiences so that their products or ideas will carry influence. However, all good public speakers consider the demographic characteristics of their audience, as well. It is the fundamental stage of preparing for your speech.

    So now you may be saying to yourself: “Gee, that’s great! How do I go about analyzing my particular audience?” First, you need to know that there are three overarching methods (or “paradigms”) for doing an audience analysis: audience analysis by direct observation, audience analysis by inference, and audience analysis through data collection. Once you get to know how these methods work, you should be able to select which one (or even combination of these methods) is right for your circumstances.

    Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.

    ~ Marcus Aurelius

    Direct Observation

    Audience analysis by direct observation, or direct experience, is the most simple of the three paradigms for “getting the feel” of a particular audience. It is a form of qualitative data gathering. We perceive it through one or more of our five natural senses—hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling.

    Knowledge that we acquire through personal experience has more impact on us than does knowledge that we learn indirectly. Knowledge acquired from personal experience is also more likely to affect our thinking and will be retained for a longer period of time. We are more likely to trust what we hear, see, feel, taste, and smell rather than what we learn from secondary sources of information (Pressat, 1972).

    All you really need to do for this method of observation is to examine your audience. If you are lucky enough to be able to do this before speaking to your audience, you will be able to gather some basic reflective data (How old are they? What racial mix does this audience have? Does their non-verbal behavior indicate that they are excited to hear this speech?) that will help you arrange your thoughts and arguments for your speech (Nierenberg &Calero, 1994).

    One excellent way to become informed about your audience is to ask them about themselves. Whenever possible, have conversations with them—interact with members of your audience—get to know them on a personal level (Where did you go to school? Do you have siblings/pets? What kind of car do you drive?)

    Through these types of conversations, you will be able to get to know and appreciate each audience member as both a human being and as an audience member. You will come to understand what interests them, convinces them, or even makes them laugh. You might arouse interest and curiosity in your topic while you also gain valuable data.

    For example, you want to deliver a persuasive speech about boycotting farm-raised fish. You could conduct a short attitudinal survey to discover what your audience thinks about the topic, if they eat farm-raised fish, and if they believe it is healthy for them. This information will help you when you construct your speech because you will know their attitudes about the subject. You would be able to avoid constructing a speech that potentially could do the opposite of what you intended.

    Another example would be that you want to deliver an informative speech about your town’s recreational activities and facilities. Your focus can be aligned with your audience if, before you begin working on your speech, you find out if your audience has senior citizens and/or high school students and/or new parents.

    Not understanding the basic demographic characteristics of an audience, or further, that audience’s beliefs, values, or attitudes about a given topic makes your presentation goals haphazard, at best. Look around the room at the people who will be listening to your speech. What types of gender, age, ethnicity, and educational- level characteristics are represented? What are their expectations for your presentation? This is all- important information you should know before you begin your research and drafting your outline. Who is it that I am going to be talking to?

    If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?

    ~ Albert Einstein


    Audience analysis by inference is merely a logical extension of your observations drawn in the method above. It is a form of critical thinking known as inductive reasoning, and another form of qualitative data gathering.

    An inference is when you make a reasoned tentative conclusion or logical judgment on the basis of available evidence. It is best used when you can identify patterns in your evidence that indicate something is expected to happen again or should hold true based upon previous experiences.

    As individuals we make inferences—or reasonable assumptions—all the time. For example, when we see someone wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers t-shirt, we infer that they are fans of the baseball team. When we see someone drinking coffee, we infer that they need a caffeine boost. These are reasoned conclusions that we make based upon the evidence available to us and our general knowledge about people and their traits.

    When we reason, we make connections, distinctions, and predictions; we use what is known or familiar to us to reach a conclusion about something that is unknown or unfamiliar for it to make sense. Granted, of course, inferences are sometimes wrong and it is the speaker’s responsibility to ensure their information is verifiable.

    Data Sampling

    Unlike audience analysis by direct observation and analysis by inference, audience analysis by data sampling uses statistical evidence to quantify and clarify the characteristics of your audience.

    These characteristics are also known as variables, and are assigned a numerical value so we can systematically collect and classify them (Tucker, Weaver, & Berryman-Fink, 1981). They are reported as statistics, also known as quantitative analysis or quantitative data collection. Statistics are numerical summaries of facts, figures, and research findings. Audience analysis by data sampling requires you to survey you audience before you give a speech. You need to know the basics of doing a survey before you actually collect and interpret your data.

    Basic Questionnaire

    There are a great number of survey methods available to the speaker. However, we will cover three primary types in this section because they are utilized the most. The first type of survey method you should know about is the basic questionnaire, which is a series of questions advanced to produce demographic and attitudinal data from your audience.


    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Questionnaire is in the Public Domain.

    Clearly, audience members should not be required to identify themselves by name on the basic questionnaire. Anonymous questionnaires are more likely to produce truthful information.

    Remember, all you are looking for is a general read of your audience; you should not be looking for specific information about any respondent concerning your questionnaire in particular. It is a bulk-sampling tool, only.

    While you can easily gather basic demographic data, we need to ask more focused questions in order to understand the audience’s “presuppositions” to think or act in certain ways. For example, you can put an attitudinal extension on the basic questionnaire (See examples below). These questions probe more deeply into the psyche of your audience members, and will help you see where they stand on certain issues.

    Ordered Categories

    Another method of finding your audience’s value set is to survey them according to their value hierarchy. A value hierarchy is a person’s value structure placed in relationship to a given value set (Rokeach, 1968).

    The way to determine a person’s value hierarchy is to use the ordered categories sampling method. The audience member will put the given values in order based on what they deem most important. When analyzed by the speaker, common themes will present themselves. (See examples below).

    Examples of Survey Questions

    Demographic Questions

    1. Academic Level
      1. Freshman
      2. Sophomore
      3. Junior
      4. Senior
    2. Marital Status
      1. Single
      2. Married
      3. Divorced
      4. Widowed
    3. Age
      1. Less then 18
      2. 18 – 30 years old
      3. 31 – 45 years old
      4. over 46 years of age

    Attitudinal Questions

    1. I regard myself as
      1. Conservative
      2. Liberal
      3. Socialist
      4. Independent
    2. I believe that abortion
      1. Should be illegal
      2. Should remain legal
      3. Should be legal in certain cases
      4. Not sure
    3. I think that prayer should be permitted in public schools
      1. Yes
      2. No
      3. undecided

    Value Ordered Questions

    Place the following list of calues in order of importance, from most important (1) to least important (5).






    1. ____________

    1. ____________

    1. ____________

    1. ____________

    1. ____________

    Likert-Type Questions

    Indicate the degree to which you agree or disagree with each question; 1 being strongly agree, 5 being strongly disagree.

    1. Unsolicited email should be illegal.

    1 2 3 4 5

    1. Making unsolicited email illegal would be fundamentally unfair to businesses.

    1 2 3 4 5

    1. I usually delete unsolicited email before even opening it.

    1 2 3 4 5

    Likert-Type Testing

    The final method of asserting your audience’s attitudes deals with Likert-type testing. Likert-type testing is when you make a statement, and ask the respondent to gauge the depth of their sentiments toward that statement positively, negatively, or neutrally. Typically, each scale will have 5 weighted response categories, being +2, +1, 0,-1, and -2.

    What the Likert-type test does, that other tests do not do, is measure the extent to which attitudes are held. See how the Likert-type test does this in the example on “unsolicited email” above.

    A small Likert-type test will tell you where your audience, generally speaking, stands on issues. As well, it will inform you as to the degree of the audience’s beliefs on these issues. The Likert-type test should be used when attempting to assess a highly charged or polarizing issue, because it will tell you, in rough numbers, whether or not your audience agrees or disagrees with your topic.

    No matter what kind of data sampling you choose, you need to allow time to collect the information and then analyze it. For example, if you create a survey of five questions, and you have your audience of 20 people complete the survey, you will need to deal with 100 survey forms.

    If you are in a small community group or college class, it is more likely that you will be doing your survey “the old-fashioned way”–so you will need some time to mark each individual response on a “master sheet” and then average or summarize the results in an effective way to use in your speech-writing and speech-giving.

    Contributors and Attributions

    5.1: Approaches to Audience Analysis is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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