Since 1977, over 10,000 Spokespersons Trained.

Audience Analysis

Preparation for any speaking engagement begins with an audience analysis. The results of your analysis will help determine your speech content, organization, length, rapport building techniques, visual aids, humor, degree of formality, your attire, props, handouts, opening, closing, etc. The time you spend at this stage will accelerate the actual speech writing and build a solid foundation for a successful engagement.

Here are a few tips to help excerpted from K. W. Huskey Associates training seminars:

  1. Get the program chairperson's telephone number. Contact the chairperson as soon as you are "assigned" the engagement. Confirm major details such as location, time, and date by email or in writing. Stay in touch. Plans may change.

  2. Identify the special interest of the audience. What draws them together as a group? What is the criteria for membership?

  3. Captive audiences such as school classes and service clubs that meet regularly are different from those attending special meetings. People who leave the comfort of their homes to hear your speech that evening usually have strong feelings on the topic. Captive audiences may be more difficult to arouse and stimulate to ask questions. What motivates your audience?

  4. Trace the history. How long has the organization been together? Who founded it? Where was it founded? What major achievements has the organization accomplished?

  5. Many organizations proudly boast past and present famous members. Knowledge of these people may create opportunities to demonstrate the research you conducted and further build audience rapport. Quoting famous members may lend support to your cause. Even if local chapters are without celebrities, state, national, and international affiliates are well stocked with past and present members of fame.

  6. Isolate organization purpose/issues. Is this a unique organization? Is it a chapter of a state, national, or international organization? How is this chapter different?

  7. Gather as many details as possible. Be certain to learn the following:

    • Level of education
    • Age
    • Sex
    • Ethnic background
    • Occupation
    • Usual and expected attendance
    • Religious considerations
    • Political considerations
    • Subject knowledge
    • Will there be any other speakers before or after you on the program? Who? Topic?
    • Have other speakers addressed this audience on a similar topic? Who? Message?
    • Will there be any VIPs or special guests present?
    • What area do members live in?
    • Members only or spouses and families, too?

  8. Most clubs have a newsletter of some type; get it. Request back copies for 4-6 months minimum. The newsletters will give you a wealth of information about the organization. New members, deceased members, special projects, club finances, new business, old issues, past speakers and more can be found here. Also, most clubs have a membership roster complete with names and occupations which should also be requested.

  9. The newsletter will also help peg the organization's personality. This will affect your selection of humor, if appropriate. Humor is an excellent tool but it must match both your message and your audience.

  10. Contact previous speakers. Surprising insights have been offered by fellow raconteurs who spoke to the same audience you intend to address. Even if they have nothing profound to offer, it may confirm what you already know. Keep records; they will help future speakers.

  11. Club slogans, mottos, creeds, sayings, etc. are important. You may be able to tie it into your talk, perhaps even as the theme.

  12. When you have completed your analysis and doubts still linger, try a field trip. Ask if you can attend a club meeting as a visitor, not a speaker. This will give you firsthand experience with the organization. When you return to speak, you will be visiting old friends, not strangers.

  13. Arrive early and mingle. Get there at least 45 minutes early and set up. Once the facilities are in order, invest some time in people. Shake some hands. Greet as many people as comfortably possible. Listen to their small talk and concerns. Break the "audience" down to individuals. Ask questions. Listen for material you can weave into your speech and question-and-answer session. It is never too late to fine tune an audience analysis.

  14. A thorough audience analysis includes anticipating audience questions. Creating a list of tough questions will cut down on surprises at the podium. The program chairperson will be helpful here, as will arriving early and mingling.

  15. Current events can quickly change your audience's primary or expected field of interest. A price increase, corporate scandal, power outage, oil spill, etc. have all been known to whet audience appetites for inside information. Read the papers, especially the day of your speech (including the local paper where the speech will be given) and look for material that may be timely. You may also find interesting or amusing anecdotes to capitalize on it works for Jay Leno and David Letterman.

  16. Special consideration must be given to special audiences. An alleged bilingual audience may best be addressed by a bilingual speaker or with aid of an interpreter. Seniors need large, easy-to-see visuals and "loud" speakers. Hearing-impaired audiences need lots of eye contact so they can see your mouth, someone to "sign," lots of visuals, etc. Some handicapped audiences have great difficulty speaking and would rather forgo an otherwise awkward Q&A session. Ask. Youngsters have a short attention span and need lots of participative activities.

  17. Sensitive issues and large audiences can add to the speaker's anxiety. Providing a respected audience member with a draft copy of your speech for review will cut down on the risk. The reviewer will point out any sensitive statement, inadvertent insults, errors, etc.

  18. Social considerations are worth asking about. Will the audience be in special attire? Is there a theme? Will there be a cocktail/reception period before you speak? If so, a long harangue on technical issues is deadly. An audience that has been consuming alcoholic beverages is best approached with light material and not too long.

  19. Will journalists be present? In many small communities the local newspaper publisher or reporter is an active member of a service club. If not a member, they may show up to cover the event, or they may ask a member to write up a story based on your remarks. The knowledge that journalists are present may or may not affect your message. Still, this is information you would like to have before arriving at the podium. Ask.

  20. Research can help. Libraries contain information on many audiences but much of it is badly dated. Try the internet. But remember, organizations vary dramatically from one chapter to the next. There is no substitute for a personal investigation. The more you know about your audience, the greater the likelihood for a successful engagement.

Source: Spokesperson: A Public Appearance Primer by Ken W. Huskey

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