Principles of Speech Writing: Audience Analysis

So, you’re going to give a speech – good for you! Doing an audience analysis first is absolutely essential to making a great speech. Without analyzing your audience prior to writing your speech, you are in danger of “bombing” (or at least not doing very well), upsetting a lot of people, and then feeling the compulsive need to move to a remote island.

Now, there are three major categories of audience analysis that you will want to take a close look at: the who, the what, and the where. Within each of these three categories, I’ve given you sub-categories to really hone in on the audience you are trying to reach.

Audience Analysis: Who (Demographics)

What is their occupation?

Is this a business meeting? Do most of the people in your audience have the same occupation, or are they at least in the same industry? If so, then you can reach them by using industry buzz words and inside jokes that only those within the industry will understand. Look deep into your shared experiences, and find the humor!

How much education do they have?

What is your audience’s educational level? You should adapt for your audience by adjusting your language. If you will be speaking to a less-educated crowd, then you will want to avoid using “fifty-cent” words when “ten-cent” words would do just as nicely. If you start speaking above their level, you not only risk them not understanding what in God’s name you’re talking about – you risk alienating your audience. No one likes a show-off, and if they get the impression that you are a know-it-all, they might tune you out.

Conversely, if you will be addressing a highly educated audience, feel free to let the fifty-cent words fly! Again, if you don’t address them on their level you face the risk of audience members growing bored with you, assuming that you don’t know what you’re talking about – and ultimately shutting you out.

Which groups do they belong to?

Does your audience belong to a specific group? Examples of groups would be organizations like political parties, college students, sports fans, moms, single people – the possibilities are endless. If your audience is made up of a specific target group, do some research. Go to a meeting or speak with some of the group members prior to drafting your speech.

If you give yourself a chance to see your subject through the eyes of the group you’ll be addressing, you will have a better sense of how to relate to them. How does your topic interest or affect these particular people? Ask that question and write your speech in a way that engages them – and you’ll be on your way to a memorable event for both you and your audience.

Which cultures and languages do they identify with?

Is the group you’re talking to a part of a particular culture or speak a foreign language? If so, be careful to not use certain slang or figures of speech that they may not understand. Also, be careful that you don’t include something that could possibly offend an audience from a different culture.

What is their age and gender?

Age and gender are very important in your audience analysis because both of these categories greatly influence the audience’s life experience. For instance, a group of female high school students will not understand the realities of war like a group of older males who may have served in Vietnam.

Audience Analysis: What (Psychological Makeup)

What do they know about the subject?

Is your audience made up of academic or business people that are very familiar with your subject? If so, you are adding to the information they already know. It would be safe to assume a certain level of understanding already exists, and you can tailor your “jumping off” point to what the majority of the audience already knows. In this situation, you are providing them with what they want to know. Feel free to use specialized terminology.

However, if your speech is to educate the uninformed, you are providing them with what they need to know. It would be safe to say that you are attempting to give them a solid grasp of the basics within your subject matter. In this scenario, you can present the material in more of a “baby steps” format. Walk them through it, and if they are truly interested in the subject, they will hang on your every word.

What do they know about you?

Is your audience made up of your peers? Friends? Business associates who you have frequent contact with? If so, you can be a lot more informal with them. They know you. You already have a relationship. In fact, they may have come to see you as much as to hear your speech! So indulge the familiarity and you will all probably have a good time.

What are their attitudes and values?

Does this particular audience share a particular set of attitudes or values? What problems are they going through right now? Being sensitive to these attitudes and values will avoid alienating your audience. You don’t want to be telling bar jokes at a religious conference.

What do they have strong opinions about?

Opinions are like little landmines hidden within your audience. Step too hard on one, and “BOOM!” So look out for opinions. They are like belly buttons, everybody’s got one. However, if you are speaking to an audience that shares a strong opinion about something (political parties immediately come to mind) be sure to tread lightly with anything that may challenge something that you know they feel strongly about.

Audience Analysis: Where and When (Physical Setting)

How large is your audience?

Is this an intimate setting or a large conference? It is much easier to be informal and personable with a small group. Obviously, you have to tweak what you say if you’ll be speaking in front of thousands. Even the volume and cadence of your speech will be affected – so keep that in mind while drafting your speech.

What is the occasion?

Is this a fun occasion or a funeral? The reason for the event warrants greatly varied tones in your speech.

Is the event voluntary or mandatory?

Did your audience come to your speech of their own volition, or were they forced to show up? You’re going to have to dig deep to endear yourself to an audience that was required to attend. You need to pull out your best jokes and engaging stories to keep those guys from falling asleep. However, an audience that is attending your speech of their own accord will be significantly more receptive to your message – so you may not have to work as hard (if you don’t want to).

When is your speech?

Is your speech early in the morning or late at night? Both pose more of a challenge to keep your audience awake than a speech performed in the middle of the day.

What is the room like?

The atmosphere of the area you are speaking in is also very important in the tone of your speech. If you are indoors in a dimly lit room with no windows, there will be a much more somber feeling to the room. You will need to brighten it up.

However, if you are speaking in the great outdoors and it is a gorgeous day, you don’t have to worry about brightening up the mood. Mother Nature has done that for you. Your only job may be to just cut the speech a little shorter so your audience can go out and play in the sunshine.

The goal of an audience analysis is to endear you to your audience. Sure, you are there to provide information. But it is the WAY that you provide that information that is nearly as important as the information itself. Having the audience relate to you and genuinely enjoy hearing you speak is critical. It can mean the difference between a great speech that pleasantly lingers in the minds of the audience – and a speech that has people checking their watches, texting their friends, or fighting the need to nod off as they desperately pray that you wrap it up soon.

I hope this blog helped you understand what you need to consider in your audience analysis. For more on speech writing, be sure to check out our other blogs on writing a thesis statement for a speech and how to write an argumentative speech.

P.S. Become a better writer. Find out more here.

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