Chapter 2: Audience Analysis and Effective Listening
Who’s In My Audience
“What’s up, Todd? You look bummed!”
“I don’t understand it, Darryl. I thought for sure my speech to the fraternity governing council and President Griffin would convince them that a KJYJ radio competition on campus would be a great way to kick off our “We Care” campaign. I clearly outlined how the competition would benefit everyone involved. I even threw in a few statistics! I did my research! Griffin’s always harping on positive publicity for the college, so this should have been a no-brainer!”
“Hey, never let it be said that I question the wisdom of my frat president, buddy, but what were you thinking when you suggested KJYJ? Didn’t you know that the council would never approve them? They might have given you the nod if you’d suggested GRUV 101, or even that station that plays all the oldies from the fifties. But KJYJ? You had zero chance with that one.”
“What makes YOU the expert on this? I know this campus inside and out.”
“Yeah? Well, you made a rookie mistake. You didn’t think about the audience for that little speech you were planning. Think about who’s on the governing council–not one person under fifty, dude! Griffin’s got to be at least sixty-five! You think that a group of geriatrics is going to approve the most controversial station in town? Shock radio? No way! The members of that council are old school, man.”
“You’re telling me that I should actually factor in the age of audience members every time I give a presentation? I don’t have time for that!”
“Well, according to my friend, Karyn, that’s just one of the things you need to think about. She’s in Professor Jamison’s speech class this semester, and she’s always telling me how much she’s learned about speaking in public. She says age, gender, group membership, religious preference, socioeconomic status–all that has to be factored in when you give a presentation, if you actually want your audience to do as you ask.”
“Or you can keep making presentations that get you nowhere. Seems obvious to me, but what do I know? You’re the one who ‘knows the campus inside and out.’”
In Module 1, you learned that the speech communication process involves much more than a speaker with a message. The audience is a crucial component as well. While Todd appears to have gathered pertinent facts and clearly outlined his request to the council, the scenario above shows us that he failed to think about the composition of his audience. Todd did not consider how the values, beliefs, and backgrounds of his listeners might influence their decision-making.
The audience should be your primary focus as you plan and prepare each presentation. What do they value? What experiences have they had that might affect how they respond to your topic? What preconceived attitudes do they have that might influence whether they are for you or against you? This module will provide you with the tools you’ll need to effectively analyze your audience.
First, we’ll identify some basic terms that you will need to understand before you begin an audience analysis. Terms such as values, attitudes, and beliefs are of special interest to us as we begin to analyze the members of your audience. You’ll find that a person’s beliefs and values can play an important role in the acceptance or rejection of your ideas and propositions. Next, we’ll focus on the collection and use of demographic data as a means of gathering basic background information from your potential listeners. Spending a little time getting to know your audience BEFORE you speak will allow you to tailor your presentation for that specific audience. We’ll examine the two most common methods of audience analysis–observation and survey–so that you’ll have the tools you need to pinpoint what is important to those listening to you.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your speaking skills are all you need in a speech class. Listening skills are important as well. You’ll want to listen to understand your audience and, at times, you’ll be asked to act as an audience – listening and evaluating what you’re hearing. While you may think that listening is an automated response, surprisingly it can be more complex than simply hearing the spoken word. So we’ll finish this module with a brief discussion of the types of listening styles and some barriers to listening so that you’re well on your way to becoming an excellent speaker AND listener.
Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:
- Assess how the beliefs, attitudes, and values of your audience impact your presentation
- Identify the demographic data most often derived from audience analysis
- Discuss common listening styles and types of listening
- Demonstrate knowledge of demographical information when tailored to a particular audience
As you can see from our discussion in this module, knowing your audience is crucial. Listen to them. Watch them. Gathering basic demographic data from your audience can provide you with information relevant for your speech, such as topics that will interest your audience, given the age and gender of its members, and the interests and passions they share. In many cases, simple observation will assist you in pinpointing some of the fundamental beliefs and values held by individual audience members.
If you prefer, a more formal method of data collection can be achieved with a written or oral survey. Keep your survey simple and to the point, and remember that a survey is simply a tool to assist you in getting to know your audience better.
Use critical listening skills as you study your audience. If you take the time to hear what they value, you can tailor your speech in such a way that you really reach your listeners. You can overcome common listening barriers that get in the way of your message. Likewise, as a listener in the audience, learn to critique the speaker’s message. Listen for content. Evaluate for validity.
Finally, respect the diversity and complexity of your listeners. Get to know them. Now take what you’ve learned as we move on to the next module. You’re one step closer to your first speech.