Practical Application: Using Informal & Formal Methods of Audience Analysis

Instructor: Amanda Robb
These scenario-based activities will help you learn how to analyze your audience. Here, we'll practice using formal and informal methods of analysis to identify what the audience might be thinking or feeling.

What Is Audience Analysis?

Have you ever been to a talk where it feels like the speaker isn't paying any attention to the audience at all? The audience might seem fidgety and bored, but the speaker just keeps talking. If the speaker used audience analysis, their speech might have been much more engaging.

In the lesson, Informal and Formal Methods of Audience Analysis you read about the importance of audience analysis, which uses different methods to gather information about the audience in order to design engaging seminars or talks.

Audience analysis can use different methods to gather this information, such as a visual analysis of the audience, looking for non-verbal cues, and verbal interactions with the audience. Let's analyze several scenarios and try to understand what the audience might be thinking or feeling and make adjustments accordingly for the speaker.

Scenario 1: An Academic Talk for Teachers

Dr. Balancy has a doctorate in psychology and specializes in childhood trauma. She was commissioned to speak at an educational conference focusing on behavior management strategies for under performing schools.

Dr. Balancy loves to be prepared and put together an 80 slide presentation for her audience. On the day of the conference, after introducing herself she dives straight into the theories about childhood trauma and how they affect different parts of the brain.

As she looks out over the audience, she notices that many people are checking their phones. Most people aren't in suits like she is, but rather business casual apparel. Some people even have stacks of papers they appear to be grading during her talk.

  • What could Dr. Balancy infer from this visually-based, informal analysis of her audience?
  • How do you think her audience is feeling?

Given that some audience members are grading, and many are dressed causally, she might infer that they are teachers or social workers, rather than administrators or doctors like herself.

  • What kinds of things do you think her audience would want to hear about given this information? Most likely, these people want strategies they can directly apply in the classroom, instead of diving deep into medical theories. They want something they can use to help their students right away!
  • What else can Dr. Balancy derive from her informal analysis?

People checking their phones or doing other work can indicate the audience is disinterested.

  • How could Dr. Balancy change her talk to increase engagement?

She could skip over the informative parts of her talk and move onto strategies to apply in the classroom, since this is what her audience is most interested in. She could also implement breakout sessions where the audience splits into small groups for discussion. Continued analysis of the room should guide the rest of her talk.

Scenario 2: Water Quality for Kids

Dr. Walsh was asked to give a talk at a local school about water quality in the area and how our behavior affects water quality. Dr. Walsh isn't sure what kids are learning these days in science class, so he wants to do some formal audience analysis before he gives his talk to make sure he's on the same level as the students. What are some strategies he could use?

If Dr. Walsh doesn't have time to talk to the kids in person, he could send a survey to their teacher and have the students fill it out. This would provide him with information about their background knowledge. Dr. Walsh chooses this method and learns that the students are in 6th grade and have just learned about climate change and the water cycle - perfect for his talk.

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