Who is in Your Audience?

Audience analysis is always important in preparing a speech. Adapting to specific people, however, is important as well.

If I know an audience member knows more about the topic than I, I might refer to something he or she has said or written to show my respect for their expertise and thus add their credibility to what I am saying.

Occasionally, I may recognize a member of my audience who holds a view different from mine.  Acknowledging that position lets that person as well as the rest of the audience know that I understand there is more than one way to view the idea.

I remember telling a story that involved suicide. One member of the audience walked out at that point. I found out later her husband had committed suicide earlier that year. Knowing this would have changed my choice of examples. I learned after that experience to ask the program chair before my speech if there was anything unusual that had happened to members of my audience.

My wife and daughter are in my audience each Sunday morning. Awareness of that fact affects my content. Occasionally their immediate response changes my content. If I can’t think of a word or a scripture my wife will sometimes prompt me. I encourage that, for if I can correct a mistake quickly, my content improves. A frown from either of them will usually convince me to rethink what I just said or quickly to move away from that thought. On rare occasions, my wife’s nodding off motivated me to get to the conclusion quickly.

In addition, if I have an example that includes my daughter’s actions as a child, I ask myself if what I am about to include will embarrass or anger her. Thus sometimes I eliminate an example I would have used were she not in my audience.

A story is told of a man who got to heaven and asked about a crowd he saw gathered.

“Oh, they’re sharing stories of their experiences on earth.  Would you care to participate?” answered one standing nearby.

“Why sure,” he said,, “I want to tell about the huge flood we had in 1889, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  Twenty-two hundred people drowned.”

“That will be fine,” came the answer, “but remember, Noah will be in the audience.”

When thinking about your audience, you want to be aware if a “Noah” is present. If so, you may choose to adjust your content.


Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. Contact Steve today for priority scheduling! (859) 866-5693 or email info@SBoyd.com

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