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4.3: Three Types of Audience Analysis

  • Page ID
    109217
    • Anonymous
    • LibreTexts
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    Learning Objectives

    1. Understand how to gather and use demographic information.
    2. Understand how to gather and use psychographic information.
    3. Understand how to gather and use situational information.

    While audience analysis does not guarantee against errors in judgment, it will help you make good choices in topic, language, style of presentation, and other aspects of your speech. The more you know about your audience, the better you can serve their interests and needs. There are certainly limits to what we can learn through information collection, and we need to acknowledge that before making assumptions, but knowing how to gather and use information through audience analysis is an essential skill for successful speakers.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Thinkmedialabs – Audience – CC BY-NC 2.0.

    Demographic Analysis

    Understanding and appealing to the audience's similarities and differences can help build a relationship between the audience and the speaker. To do this we use audience demographics. For instance, culture is one aspect of demographics. One cultural dimension is individualism and collectivism. The US is considered more individualistic - placing the emphasis on individual achievement and often looks out for themselves or people they are relationally close to first. In more collectivistic cultures, the emphasis is placed more on larger groups and the society/culture as a whole instead of individual achievement. The motivation for someone from a collectivistic group might be doing what is good for the group whereas the motivation for someone from an individualistic culture might be doing what is good for the individual.

    How does this relate to public speaking? Imagine you are giving a speech about wearing seatbelts (yes there was a time when people needed convincing) and you want to convince someone from an individualistic culture to wear a seatbelt. Your message might be focused on how the seatbelt protects the wearer from harm. If you are giving a speech to a person from a collectivistic culture, the individual appeal might not be effective to convince your audience to wear a seatbelt. Appealing to a larger group might make for a more compelling argument. Explaining to your audience that wearing a seatbelt helps keep you alive and in turn helps make the larger society better might be a stronger appeal for someone coming from a collectivistic culture.

    This is but one example of how the dimensions of culture could impact the way you would speak to a specific audience. Thinking about your speeches, there is a good chance you will have people from a variety of backgrounds that will be listening to your speech. Therefore, only appealing to one specific dimension of culture might not be the best way to communicate a message to an audience. That is why it is important to think about how you can appeal to the greatest number of people in your audience and that might involve learning more about the demographics of the audience.

    Understanding the cultural dimensions that might influence your message is one way we can informally analyze our audience. Informal analysis or demographic analysis involves you using general information about your audience to draw assumptions about how they might receive your message. Think of these as educated guesses. Informal audience analysis involves looking at the demographics of your audience including age, gender, culture, ethnicity, and race. Take age for instance, if the bulk of your audience is their 40's they will more than likely not get your popular culture references. I had to stop using the Smurfs as an example a long time ago because students were unfamiliar with the cartoon - yes it was a cartoon before it was a movie - and I had to use a different example. Had I continued to use examples that were unfamiliar to my audience it would not have been effective - it would have been isolating and I would not be able to build a relationship with my audience.

    Psychographic Analysis

    Earlier, we mentioned psychographic information, which includes such things as values, opinions, attitudes, and beliefs. Authors Grice and Skinner present a model in which values are the basis for beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors (Grice & Skinner, 2009). Values are the foundation of their pyramid model. They say, “A value expresses a judgment of what is desirable and undesirable, right and wrong, or good and evil. Values are usually stated in the form of a word or phrase. For example, most of us probably share the values of equality, freedom, honesty, fairness, justice, good health, and family. These values compose the principles or standards we use to judge and develop our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.”

    It is important to recognize that, while demographic information as discussed in Section 5.2.1 “Demographic Analysis” is fairly straightforward and verifiable, psychographic information is much less clear-cut. Two different people who both say they believe in equal educational opportunity may have very different interpretations of what “equal opportunity” means. People who say they don’t buy junk food may have very different standards for what specific kinds of foods are considered “junk food.”

    We also acknowledge that people inherit some values from their family upbringing, cultural influences, and life experiences. The extent to which someone values family loyalty and obedience to parents, thrift, humility, and work may be determined by these influences more than by individual choice.

    Psychographic analysis can reveal preexisting notions that limit your audience’s frame of reference. By knowing about such notions ahead of time, you can address them in your speech. Audiences are likely to have two basic kinds of preexisting notions: those about the topic and those about the speaker.

    Preexisting Notions about Your Topic

    Many things are a great deal more complex than we realize. Media stereotypes often contribute to our oversimplifications. For instance, one of your authors, teaching public speaking in the past decade, was surprised to hear a student claim that “the hippies meant well, but they did it wrong.” Aside from the question of the “it” that was done wrong, there was a question about how little the student actually knew about the diverse hippy cultures and their aspirations. The student seemed unaware that some of “the hippies” were the forebears of such things as organic bakeries, natural food co-ops, urban gardens, recycling, alternative energy, wellness, and other arguably positive developments.

    It’s important to know your audience in order to make a rational judgment about how their views of your topic might be shaped. In speaking to an audience that might have differing definitions, you should take care to define your terms in a clear, honest way.

    At the opposite end from oversimplification is the level of sophistication your audience might embody. Your audience analysis should include factors that reveal it. Suppose you are speaking about trends in civil rights in the United States. You cannot pretend that the advancement of civil rights is virtually complete nor can you claim that no progress has been made. It is likely that in a college classroom, the audience will know that although much progress has been made, there is still work to be done to reduce prejudice, discrimination, and violence. When you speak to an audience that is cognitively complex, your strategy must be different from the one you would use for an audience that is less educated in the topic. With a cognitively complex audience, you must acknowledge the overall complexity while stating that your focus will be on only one dimension. With an audience that’s uninformed about your topic, that strategy in a persuasive speech could confuse them; they might well prefer a black-and-white message with no gray areas. You must decide whether it is ethical to represent your topic this way.

    When you prepare to do your audience analysis, include questions that reveal how much your audience already knows about your topic. Try to ascertain the existence of stereotyped, oversimplified, or prejudiced attitudes about it. This could make a difference in your choice of topic or in your approach to the audience and topic.

    Preexisting Notions about You

    People form opinions readily. For instance, we know that students form impressions of teachers the moment they walk into our classrooms on the first day. You get an immediate impression of our age, competence, and attitude simply from our appearance and nonverbal behavior. In addition, many have heard other students say what they think of us.

    The same is almost certainly true of you. But it’s not always easy to get others to be honest about their impressions of you. They’re likely to tell you what they think you want to hear. Sometimes, however, you do know what others think. They might think of you as a jock, a suit-wearing conservative, a nature lover, and so on. Based on these impressions, your audience might expect a boring speech, a shallow speech, a sermon, and so on. However, your concern should still be serving your audience’s needs and interests, not debunking their opinions of you or managing your image. In order to help them be receptive, you address their interests directly, and make sure they get an interesting, ethical speech.

    Situational Analysis

    The next type of analysis is called situational audience analysis because it focuses on characteristics related to the specific speaking situation. The situational audience analysis can be divided into two main questions:

    1. How many people came to hear my speech and why are they here? What events, concerns, and needs motivated them to come? What is their interest level, and what else might be competing for their attention?
    2. What is the physical environment of the speaking situation? What is the size of the audience, layout of the room, existence of a podium or a microphone, and availability of digital media for visual aids? Are there any distractions, such as traffic noise?

    Audience Size

    In a typical class, your audience is likely to consist of twenty to thirty listeners. This audience size gives you the latitude to be relatively informal within the bounds of good judgment. It isn’t too difficult to let each audience member feel as though you’re speaking to him or her. However, you would not become so informal that you allow your carefully prepared speech to lapse into shallow entertainment. With larger audiences, it’s more difficult to reach out to each listener, and your speech will tend to be more formal, staying more strictly within its careful outline. You will have to work harder to prepare visual and audio material that reaches the people sitting at the back of the room, including possibly using amplification.

    Occasion

    There are many occasions for speeches. Awards ceremonies, conventions and conferences, holidays, and other celebrations are some examples. However, there are also less joyful reasons for a speech, such as funerals, disasters, and the delivery of bad news. As always, there are likely to be mixed reactions. For instance, award ceremonies are good for community and institutional morale, but we wouldn’t be surprised to find at least a little resentment from listeners who feel deserving but were overlooked. Likewise, for a speech announcing bad news, it is likely that at least a few listeners will be glad the bad news wasn’t even worse. If your speech is to deliver bad news, it’s important to be honest but also to avoid traumatizing your audience. For instance, if you are a condominium board member speaking to a residents’ meeting after the building was damaged by a hurricane, you will need to provide accurate data about the extent of the damage and the anticipated cost and time required for repairs. At the same time, it would be needlessly upsetting to launch into a graphic description of injuries suffered by people, animals, and property in neighboring areas not connected to your condomium complex.

    Some of the most successful speeches benefit from situational analysis to identify audience concerns related to the occasion. For example, when the president of the United States gives the annual State of the Union address, the occasion calls for commenting on the condition of the nation and outlining the legislative agenda for the coming year. The speech could be a formality that would interest only “policy wonks,” or with the use of good situational audience analysis, it could be a popular event reinforcing the connection between the president and the American people. In January 2011, knowing that the United States’ economy was slowly recovering and that jobless rates were still very high, President Barack Obama and his staff knew that the focus of the speech had to be on jobs. Similarly, in January 2003, President George W. Bush’s State of the Union speech focused on the “war on terror” and his reasons for justifying the invasion of Iraq. If you look at the history of State of the Union Addresses, you’ll often find that the speeches are tailored to the political, social, and economic situations facing the United States at those times.

    Voluntariness of Audience

    A voluntary audience gathers because they want to hear the speech, attend the event, or participate in an event. A classroom audience, in contrast, is likely to be a captive audience. Captive audiences are required to be present or feel obligated to do so. Given the limited choices perceived, a captive audience might give only grudging attention. Even when there’s an element of choice, the likely consequences of nonattendance will keep audience members from leaving. The audience’s relative perception of choice increases the importance of holding their interest.

    Whether or not the audience members chose to be present, you want them to be interested in what you have to say. Almost any audience will be interested in a topic that pertains directly to them. However, your audience might also be receptive to topics that are indirectly or potentially pertinent to their lives. This means that if you choose a topic such as advances in the treatment of spinal cord injury or advances in green technology, you should do your best to show how these topics are potentially relevant to their lives or careers.

    However, there are some topics that appeal to audience curiosity even when it seems there’s little chance of direct pertinence. For instance, topics such as Blackbeard the pirate or ceremonial tattoos among the Maori might pique the interests of various audiences. Depending on the instructions you get from your instructor, you can consider building an interesting message about something outside the daily foci of our attention.

    Physical Setting

    The physical setting can make or break even the best speeches, so it is important to exercise as much control as you can over it. In your classroom, conditions might not be ideal, but at least the setting is familiar. Still, you know your classroom from the perspective of an audience member, not a speaker standing in the front—which is why you should seek out any opportunity to rehearse your speech during a minute when the room is empty. If you will be giving your presentation somewhere else, it is a good idea to visit the venue ahead of time if at all possible and make note of any factors that will affect how you present your speech. In any case, be sure to arrive well in advance of your speaking time so that you will have time to check that the microphone works, to test out any visual aids, and to request any needed adjustments in lighting, room ventilation, or other factors to eliminate distractions and make your audience more comfortable.

    Key Takeaways

    • Demographic audience analysis focuses on group memberships of audience members.
    • Another element of audience is psychographic information, which focuses on audience attitudes, beliefs, and values.
    • Situational analysis of the occasion, physical setting, and other factors are also critical to effective audience analysis.

    Exercises

    1. List the voluntary (political party, campus organization, etc.) and involuntary (age, race, sex, etc.) groups to which you belong. After each group, write a sentence or phrase about how that group influences your experience as a student.
    2. Visit www.claritas.com/MyBestSegments/Default.jsp and homes.point2.com and report on the demographic information found for several different towns or zip codes. How would this information be useful in preparing an audience analysis?
    3. In a short paragraph, define the term “fairness.” Compare your definition with someone else’s definition. What factors do you think contributed to differences in definition?
    4. With a partner, identify an instance when you observed a speaker give a poor speech due to failing to analyze the situation. What steps could the speaker have taken to more effectively analyze the situation?

    References

    • Grice, G. L., & Skinner, J. F. (2009). Mastering public speaking: The handbook (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

    4.3: Three Types of Audience Analysis is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anonymous.