Audience Analysis for your Speech

June 1, 2017 - SOPHIE THOMPSON

Understand how to perform audience analysis for your speech and the different types of audience you might encounter. The type of audience affects the choice of language, humour, opening sentences, length and many more. You can determine the level of expertise on your topic during the early stages of your speech and adjust to 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 audience analysis shows that 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 avoid 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
Understand what time your speech is at and how the audience will be feeling

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.


Change speech if faced with a hostile audience

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

The following section discusses the four types of audience personalities and an audience analysis on them.

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

This is a great way to perform early audience analysis. 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 to give you a head start on audience analysis. This gives you an idea of how technical and prepared your audience might be.

For additional information on understanding your audience and audience analysis, 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.


Key Audience Analysis Factors

Audience expectations

Different audiences can have completely different expectations about the topics and speaker. Ignoring these differences can have a negative effect on your speech. Imagine that you’re asked to speak at the memorial service for a close friend. The audience will expect your speech to praise the life of the deceased. If you start talking about the flaws of the person, the audience is likely to react badly to it.

Knowledge of topic

You need to find out how much your audience already knows about your topic as an audiences knowledge can vary widely. Two ways to achieve this could be:

  • Research who else is speaking at the event and the topics they are presenting (if it’s been made public)
  • Gauge the type of people who will attend using the event website or social media profiles

Never overestimate the audience’s knowledge of a topic. If you start speaking about complex algorithms for robotics, but the listeners are not familiar with basic genetics, they’ll quickly lose interest and find something to distract themselves with.

On the other hand, drastically underestimating the audience’s knowledge may result in a speech that sounds condescending.

Setting

Presentation setting, such as what time you are presenting and style of the conference room, will influence audience’s ability and desire to listen.

Finding out ahead of time the different environment and situational factors. This will give you plenty of time to prepare for an audience of 1000 when you were expecting 50. You want to understand whether there will be a stage, where your slides will be shown, what technology is available to you, who is presenting before you and other factors.

Take into account the way that the setting will affect audience attention and participation. If you’re scheduled to speak at the end of the day, you’ll have to make the speech more entertaining and appear more enthusiasm to keep their attention.

Read more about how to speak to an unruly crowd if you're stuck with an end of day presentation slot.

Audience size

Your speech will change depending on the size of the audience. In general, the larger the audience the more formal the presentation should be. Using everyday language when speaking to a group of 5 people is often appropriate. However, you’ll need a well throughout structure and literary techniques when talking to 500 people. Large audiences often require that you use a microphone and speak from an elevated platform.

Research audience size before presenting

Attitude toward topic

Being able to understand the audiences attitudes about a topic will help you connect with them. Imagine you’re trying to convince people at a town hall to build a new college. You’ll be inclined to spend the majority of the speech giving reasons why a college would benefit the town.

If you find that the major worry was how much this would cost students, you can talk more about funding available to the students. The persuasive power of the speech is therefore directed at the most important obstacle to the building the college.

Demographics

The demographic factors of an audience include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Ethnic background
  • Class
  • Job or Career
  • Education

These categories often underpin the individuals experiences and beliefs, so you should tailor your speech accordingly. Presenting at a conference in London will be a very different experience to presenting in Shanghai. The structure of your speech and words you use will probably be very different.

Using demographic factors to guide speech-making does not mean changing the goal of the speech for every different audience; rather, consider what pieces of information will be most important for members of different demographic groups.

Voluntariness

Audiences are either hostile, critical, uninformed or sympathetic. Knowing the difference will assist in establishing the content of your speech. It’s very hard to generate and maintain interest with a hostile audience. You’ll definitely want to know if you’re up against this so you can plan ahead for it.

Egocentrism

Most audience members are interested in things that directly affect them or their company. An effective speaker must be able to show their audience why the topic they are speaking on should be important to them.


Read more about audience analysis.