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The Benefits of Understanding your Audience

The Benefits of Understanding your Audience

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Explain why it is important to understand your audience prior to delivering a speech.

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Tutorial
KEY POINTS
  • Knowing your audience — things like their general age, gender, education level, religion, language and culture, and group membership —is the single most important aspect of developing your speech.

  • Analyzing your audience will help discover information that can help to build common ground between you and the audience.

  • A key characteristic in public speaking situations is the unequal distribution of speaking time between speaker and audience. What does this mean? The speaker talks more and the audience listens often without asking questions or responding with any feedback.

Benefits of Understanding Audiences

When you are speaking you want the listeners to understand and respond favorably to what you are saying. An audience is one or more people who come together to listen to the speaker. The audience may be face to face with the speaker or they may be connected by communication technology such as computers or other media. The audience may be small or it may be a large public audience. A key characteristic of public speaking situations is the unequal distribution of speaking time between speaker and audience. What does this mean? The speaker talks more and the audience listens, often without asking questions or responding with any feedback. In some situations the audience may ask questions or respond overtly by clapping or making comments.


Audience-Centered Approach to Speaking

Since there is usually limited communication between the speaker and the audience, there is limited opportunity to go back to explain your meaning. In order to prepare, it is important to know about the audience and adapt the message to the audience. You want to prepare your speech with a focus on the audience.  We call this approach audience-centered.
In public speaking, you are speaking to and for your audience; thus, understanding the audience is a major part of the speech making process. In audience-centered speaking, getting to know your target audience is one of the most important tasks that you face. You want to learn about the major demographics of the audience such as general age, gender, education, religion, culture, as well as to what groups the audience members belong. Additionally, learning about the values, attitudes and beliefs of the members of your audience will allow you to anticipate and plan your message.


Finding Common Ground by Taking Perspective

You want to analyze your audience prior to your speech so you can create a link between you, the speaker, and the audience during the speech. You want to be able to figuratively step inside the minds of audience members to understand the world from their perspective. Through this process you can find common ground with your audience, which allows you to align your message with what the audience already knows or believes.
Gathering and Interpreting Information

Audience analysis involves gathering and interpreting information about the recipients of oral, written or visual communication. There are very simple methods for conducting an audience analysis such as interviewing a small group about its knowledge or attitudes, or using more involved methods of analyzing demographic studies of relevant segments of the population. You may also find it useful to look at sociological studies of different age groups or cultural groups for knowledge. You might also use a questionnaire or rating scale to collect data about basic demographic information and opinions of your target audience. Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list. But it does help you obtain a general understanding of the methods for learning about your audience. After considering all the known factors, a profile of the intended audience can be created, allowing you to speak in a manner that is understood by the intended audience.


Tips for the Speaker - Practical Benefits

Finally, understanding who makes up your target audience will allow you to carefully plan your message and adapt what you say to the level of understanding and background of the listeners. Two practical benefits of conducting an audience analysis are (1) to prevent you from saying the wrong thing such as telling a joke which offends, and (2) to help you speak to your audience in a language they understand about things of interest to them.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • audience analysis

    an audience analysis involves the study of the pertinent elements defining the makeup and characteristics of your audience

  • audience-centered

    audience-centered contrasts with speaker-centered. When preparing a message the source analyzes the audience in order to adapt the content and language usage to the level of the listeners

  • audience

    one or more people within hearing range of some message; for example, a group of people listening to a performance, speech etc. ; the crowd attending a stage performance