Understand your Audience

Understanding your audience is important for writing your speech. The type of audience affects the choice of language, humour, opening sentences, length and many more. You can determine the level of experts on your topic during the early stages of your speech and adjust it accordingly.

Four Types of Audience

Hostile

This audience does not want to be listening to you. This could be for many reasons, from not liking the organisation you are representing, to wanting to get home and watch their favourite TV show. They can be openly hostile and disagree with you. If you know you’ll be faced with this audience (e.g. you have the last slot of a busy day of presentation), consider the following:

  • Work hard on developing trust and interest
  • Construct your presentation from an area of agreement or point of disagreement
  • Use humour
  • Use plenty of references and data to back up your points
  • Challenge them, ask questions during your speech and engage them

Critical

Often at technical conferences, you get critical people who believe they are extremely intelligent and relish the thought of proving part of your presentation incorrect. Use the following techniques:

  • Use lots of evidence with strong references
  • Argue both sides of the case, clearly stating pros and cons of each
  • Try not to exaggerate, keep to the facts

Uninformed

This is the most common type of audience you will encounter. They might know a little about your presentation topic but certainly not in great detail.

  • Open up with questions so you can understand the level of knowledge on your topic
  • Spend a few slides going over the basics of your topic
  • Use simple language and about acronyms
  • Give basic facts and try to relate information to something people understand (e.g. if talking about space and using huge numbers, relate them to things people can comprehend)

Sympathetic

This audience is willing to listen and wants to be there. They can be interested in your topic, excited to see you talk (you might be a well-known figure in your speaking field), have an emotional attachment – these people are the easiest to persuade.

  • Use the state of this audience to ask for help / funding etc.
  • Trigger emotions which powerful stories

People checking their watches? Make sure you understand the situation your audience is in. If your presentation is the last of the day, you’ll most likely have a hostile audience. Take this into account and structure your speech accordingly.


Speaking to angry protesters? Make sure you understand the type of audience you will be up against and build you speech accordingly.


Features of Each Style

Analytical – 100% accurate, chronology, don’t rush, focus on facts, internally focussed, distant from others, systematic, critical

Driver – 100% task, headlines, don’t waste time, focus on action, future focused, leading others, quick to decide, impatient

Amiable – 100% social, relationships, don’t intimidate, focus on feelings, present focused, asks questions, dislike conflict, support, kind

Expressive – 100% impulsive, vision & ideas, don’t limit, focus on themes, externally focused, makes statements, competitive & chaotic, unpredictable, energetic

Personalities in a Meeting Scenario

Analytical

  • Scrupulous about preparation before and after meetings
  • Arrives on time, keeps to time and prevents drift
  • Takes very detailed minutes and listens intently
  • Reflects on discussion, makes considered contributions

Driver

  • Drives decision making and ensures time is not wasted
  • Cuts across distractions and leads meetings well
  • Manages difficult people assertively
  • Ensures the action plan is implemented

Amiable

  • Builds rapport easily and connects people together
  • Remembers coffee, cake and connects people together
  • Averts conflict, when it threatens
  • Supports the team and leader fully

Expressive

  • Entertains, engages when in the limelight
  • Challenges old way of thinking
  • Generates creative ideas and opens new possibilities
  • Tells the truth, brings on debate, breaks through niceties

How to Gauge Level of Interest in your Speech

Greet people before your Speech

If possible, stand near the entrance and greet people as they come in. Ask them questions to gauge their level of knowledge and expectations. Example questions can be “what industry are working in?” and “how long they have been working at…”

Call and Response Technique

Ask carefully prepared questions at the beginning of you speech to understand the mood and experience of the audience. You could ask “Raise your hand if you have used a virtual reality headset before” for example.

Research the Event

Read up about the conference you are attending. Find out what the other presentations are about and how they might relate to your speech. This gives you an idea of how technical and prepared your audience might be.

For additional information on understanding your audience, read:

Greeting people before the event is a great way to network with people, as well as gauging their level of interest and understanding of your presentation topic.