Module Two: Identifying Your Audience

The key to effective public speaking is preparation. The better you prepare, the more confident you will feel.

Preparation begins with identifying your audience. What do you know about your audience? What do they care about? What’s important to them? Do they have any misconceptions about your topic? These are the kinds of questions you should ask as part of your preparation. Sitting down and listing the questions, and your answers to them will give you a basic structure for your speech, around which you can add things and take them away as you see fit.

Holding the attention of an audience and speaking to what interests them is the most important thing about any public speech. It is not merely about what you say, but also how you say it. If you have a message you wish to get across, then think of how that message will communicate itself best to the audience you are speaking to.

Performing a Needs Analysis

Preparing for a speech should begin with thinking about the wants and needs of the audience. What are they interested in? What do they care about? No matter how entertaining a speaker you are, people will not give you their full attention unless you are talking about something that is meaningful to them.

You should try to let the audience know early in your speech that you are going to try to address their concerns. Too often a speaker starts out with a lengthy discussion about the history or background of a topic. That is usually not what the audience cares about! They want to know how this topic will affect their lives.

A needs analysis measures what skills employees have — and what they need. It indicates how to deliver the right training at the right time. The results answer the following questions:

  • Where is the audience with the problem or need for change?
  • What tasks and subtasks does an expert perform to complete a work process?
  • What gaps exist between experts, average, and poor performers of a work process?
  • How do we translate the needs into objectives to promote a strong learning outcome?

The method can be simple observation, careful note-taking, and asking questions.

Question

Methods

Audience?

Interview key stakeholders and listen to their concerns about the problem

Define who needs help to overcome the problem

Identify and describe the audience and the work

Tasks?

Observe the work being done by recognized experts

Take careful notes and ask questions where needed

Document the proper performance of the work tasks

Gaps?

Observe other workers doing the tasks. Compare results with the performance of experts. The document identified skill gaps.

Outcome?

Develop a complete list of tasks for performing the work completely and correctly.

Creating an Audience Profile

  • Education: If your audience is well-educated, you can use fairly sophisticated vocabulary. If they’re not, you need to keep things simple.
  • Familiarity with Topic: What do people know about the topic already and what do you need to explain?
  • Familiarity with Jargon: Avoid any specialized vocabulary unless you think that everyone in the audience will understand it. If you have to use a technical term, explain it.
  • Interest in the Topic: What do people care about? What’s important to them?
  • Possible Misconceptions: Which incorrect ideas might you need to correct?
  • Attitude: Are people hostile, supportive, curious, worried? The attitude of your audience will affect the tone of your speech.

One of the most important elements of written or spoken language is the register in which it is delivered. Experts say that there are three registers of language, titled R1, R2, and R3. R1 is the level of language used most commonly by politicians, lawyers, and found in the upper-market range of newspapers. R2 is the most commonly used by people in everyday conversation with acquaintances and people they have just met (outside a framework of formality).

R3 is the register that may be used between close friends and is heavily based in slang. Considering how educated your audience is, and how formal you wish the speech to be, will govern the choice of register.

The audience’s familiarity with an interest in the topic will also be of importance. You may be seeking to educate your audience on the topic at hand or to communicate your own ideas to an audience who is already familiar with the topic. Deciding between these will help shape your speech – if they are familiar with the topic then it does not hurt to include some jargon, as this may even make your speech that little bit more dynamic – if you don’t need to keep explaining things, you can communicate ideas more effectively.

The mood and opinion of your audience are also important. It will influence the tone and content of your speech, as a nervous or worried audience will require an element of comfort or reassurance, while a celebratory audience will want to share a positive, electric atmosphere and possibly hear some congratulations.

One person speaking to a large crowd is in a unique position – they have the attention of many people and the power to get ideas across that will change mindsets and behaviour on a large scale. It is therefore important to consider how you phrase things, and that you correct any persistent misconceptions of which you are aware.

If you have a good understanding of your audience, you can probably predict the key questions and concerns they are likely to have. You may not be able to give the audience the answers they would like to hear, but at least you should be ready to discuss the things they care about most.

Many speeches these days are followed by a question and answer session which allows the audience to raise any issues they do not feel have been fully dealt with by the original speech – but it is better for the audience if the original speech deals with those concerns, as it shows that they have been thought through rather than addressed “on the hoof”.

Predicting questions and concerns should be straightforward. If you are in a position to address a larger group of people, then the chances are that you have knowledge of the issues that affect them and how these can be addressed. It is also possible to take a sounding from people “on the ground” as to what is concerning them. It may well be that you share those concerns and have given some thought to addressing them.

If you can speak intelligently and emotionally about the issues that concern your audience, they will have a lot more trust that you can help provide solutions to problems, and that their position is understood and respected.

It may help before delivering a speech or presentation to make a list of the five most searching questions you expect people to have. Your presentation should then concern itself with answering those questions as well as delivering your own standpoint.

When delivering the speech it is helpful to pay tribute to the fact that these concerns exist, by saying something along the lines of: “And before I go any further, I would like to raise an issue that I know has been foremost among the minds of many here…”. As the audience is giving you their attention, it is simply reasonable that you make clear that they, too, have yours.