There are three formal concentrations a good public speaker needs to focus on when conducting a formal audience analysis. There are also times when an informal analysis will do. Learn more about both types in this lesson.
What Is an Audience Analysis?
Whether the speaker is handing out a survey after his speech or scanning the room like a detective, what he is really doing is an audience analysis, which is the process of determining through verbal and non-verbal cues whether the audience is actually interested in what you have to say.
There are reasons for this. First, the speaker wants to be sure that his material is appropriate for the audience.
Think about it. The speaker reaches the podium and begins talking to the audience only to find that the audience does not have background knowledge, is not the appropriate age or already knows the material being covered. This would be a disaster for even the most seasoned speaker.
So the best way to figure out what to say is to prudently peruse the crowd before, during and after the speech. There are two ways this can be done: formally and informally. Let's investigate both.
Formal Methods of Audience Analysis
There are two kinds of speakers in the world: those that are speaker-centered and those that are audience-centered. A speaker-centered person thinks only about his perspective and uses his beliefs and values as the focus of the speech. An audience-centered person makes his speech more enjoyable and entertaining.
The best way to know if you are focusing on your audience is to perform a formal analysis, and it's pretty in depth. The speaker makes a prescribed plan to scrutinize the audience's behaviors and uses the data to come up with conclusions about audience's preferences.
Dr. Rothingham, a climate expert, was commissioned to speak on the topic of global warming before an audience of high school science students. In his speech, he used several hundred statistics to prove that everything, from large factories to personal heated blankets, is the cause of this problem.
He went on to cite sources, charts, visuals, and demonstrations, all the while speaking faster and faster. As he buzzed on, the audience became more and more withdrawn.
What Rothingham did was present the information as he best understood it. He did not take into consideration his audience's age or background knowledge. He based his presentation on his own inclinations.
But just how can a speaker like Dr. R. determine whether he is actually reaching his audience? Easy, here are a few things to think about.
Demographics focus on traits and characteristics of the audience, like age, income or education. Culture is another consideration. This involves beliefs, values and common knowledge. Psychology comes into play because people perceive things as they are conditioned to believe based on biases and backgrounds.
Dr. R.'s audience was composed of high school kids. They probably do not know how to interpret complex charts and graphs. Their ability to sit still for any amount of time may also be an issue. So, background knowledge and age played a factor in why the speech was not so well-received.
Had Dr. R. asked a few questions about the anticipated audience members, he would have learned that the students were between 15-17 years old and knew only the very basics about climate. He could have tailored his speech to be less data-driven and more conversational, with visuals and other aids to help get the main points across.
This audience is a group of high school science students. They probably agree with the methods of modern science. But had this audience never been exposed to global warming, they may not be so willing to believe the speaker.
There are ways in which a speaker can formally assess audience approval.
A focus group can be gathered. This hand-selected group of people can provide information about themselves so the speaker can ask questions and test out parts of his speech to analyze whether the audience reacts positively to it. From there, he can make changes to the speech until it meets the needs and wants of his audience.
Now, this is not the most practical of plans. It takes time and money to assemble and conduct this type of research. So, another way is through a survey. Dr. R. could have sent a packet of surveys to the students to get a better snapshot of his audience. From there, he can tailor his speech to meet their needs.
Sometimes, nothing formal is needed. Analyzing speech effectiveness may be as easy as using one's eyes and ears.
Informal Methods of Audience Analysis
An informal analysis can take place any time and involves a visual observation of the group's behaviors before, during and after the speech. Prior to the speech, the speaker can ask the person contracting him questions about the audience.
Dr. R. should have contacted the science teacher to inquire about the age of the students. In this conversation, he could have asked to take a gander at the textbook used in class. This would give him good insight into what the kids already know. A quick online search about high school science programs may reveal a syllabus or a lesson plan common to all high school science programs.
Once the speaker is on stage, there is still time to assess the audience. By taking a look around, age would have been a glaring factor. If Dr. R. notices that the students are using technology, like cell phones to play games or text, he can switch his speech up and include asking the audience to look up a quick answer on their phones. This may just reel the audience in.
Non-verbal cues are important indicators, and unspoken signs, like facial expressions and gestures, tell the speaker whether the audience is interested.
For Dr. R.'s audience, kids will be kids. Some will fall asleep while others will toss paper airplanes around the room. But most eyes should be on the speaker. If he notices that most kids are looking around the room or appear to have ants in their pants, this is a telltale sign that he lost them.
There may still be hope. Dr. R. may be able to turn this around by asking the audience to stand up and stretch midway through the speech.
Audience engagement can also be tested after the speech. Once the talking is done, Dr. R. can open the floor to questions. Hopefully, there are a few curious science geeks who want to know more. Lots of questions may tell the speaker that the audience was interested. Few questions can mean one of two things. The audience was not listening enough to remember much, or the speaker did his job in providing ample information.
Still, the speaker has one last opportunity to find out whether he was effective and use a combination of formal and informal methods by providing the attendees with a post-event survey. The responses will reveal the truth.
In sum, an audience analysis is the process of determining through verbal and non-verbal cues whether the audience is actually interested in what you have to say. In analyzing an audience, there are three things to look at: demographics, culture and psychology.
The speaker can perform a formal analysis, or a prescribed plan to scrutinize the audience's behaviors, and use the data to come to conclusions about the audience's preferences. If time does not allow, an informal analysis can take place any time and involves a visual observation of the group's behaviors before, during and after the speech.
Keep in mind, the speaker can use a combination of formal analysis by giving a survey after the speech and informal by watching the audience's reaction throughout the speech.
After this lesson, you should have the ability to:
- Define audience analysis
- List the three main factors to consider when conducting an audience analysis
- Describe ways to conduct a formal analysis and an informal analysis