One of the most important things you can do as a speaker is study your audience. This is a crucial step toward building a message that meets the needs of those who will be listening to you. Why? It allows you to examine what their expectations and questions are ahead of time, and to make sure you address those. If you don’t understand what your audience needs from your presentation, you risk missing the mark altogether.

Before the Speech

The thing about audience analysis is that it takes time and research. It’s not a step that you can skip over. Before you begin writing a single word, ask yourself some questions.

  • Who will be attending my presentation?
  • Why are they attending?
  • How does my topic affect the lives of my listeners?
  • What does my audience already know about this topic?
  • What feelings or opinions might my audience have toward this topic?
  • Is there anything in my presentation that could be frustrating for or offensive to my audience?
  • What percentage of the information I’m presenting will be new to my audience? And how should this affect my content and pace?
  • What do I want my audience to leave knowing and feeling?

The University of Pittsburg shares an important reminder: “Most audience members are egocentric: they are generally most interested in things that directly affect them or their community.” Audience analysis allows you to discover what affects your listeners. So prepare your content with your audience and what interests and affects them in mind.

During the Speech

Once you’ve conducted behind-the-scenes audience analysis, make sure that comes out in your presentation. In other words, show them that you know them. This doesn’t have to be drawn out. A simple phrase or question can let the audience know you have considered them, their viewpoints and their questions.

Take this example from Winston Churchill’s famous wartime speech “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat.” In it, he addresses the House of Commons, hoping to inspire his people to keep fighting against Nazi Germany. He says:

You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terrors — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

(You can listen to the audio of this 5-minute speech here.)

He uses simple questions, ones that he has assumed the audience might ask if given the chance. Then he replies with simple responses to these imagined questions. In this way, he shows the audience that he understands their concerns. And he gives the audience a voice during his speech, even though we never hear from anyone but him.

When writing content always keep your audience in mind. Don’t stray too far from these questions: who is this message for? and, how can I tailor it meet their needs and expectations?

Audience analysis is just one component to mastering the art of public speaking. Ready to learn how to make your next presentation masterful?



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