Know Your Audience Before Speaking to a Group
by Ron Kurtus (revised 1 August 2005)
Your goal in speaking to a group is to either inform, persuade or entertain them. To achieve any or all of those objectives, you should know their interests, likes and dislikes.
Before you speak to a group of people, you should learn as much about them and their interests as possible. You can can also find information about them and their mood at the beginning and during your speech.
You can then tailor your speech to their needs and to better assure a positive reaction from them.
Questions you may have include:
- Why should you find out about the audience?
- How can you find out about the audience?
- What rewards can be gotten from knowing the audience?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Why you need to know your audience
Your purpose in speaking to a group is to inform, persuade, or entertain the audience. Your motivation is to get satisfaction from expressing your ideas and getting recognition or applause from the audience.
In order to achieve your purpose, as well as to get the expression and applause you desire, you must satisfy the audience with something in which they are interested. Thus, it is important to know what your audience is interested in, what their expectations are and even what mood they are in.
How to find out about the audience
You can find out about the audience through research before you speak, through interaction at the beginning of your talk, and by making adjustments during the speech.
Before you speak
Before you speak--and even before you prepare your speech--you should know what sort of audience you will have. What is the nature of the group? What do they expect to hear from you? Do they have any special interests or prejudices about which you should be aware?
Who is in the audience?
In speaking to a group of managers at work, you have a good idea of who will be in the audience. There may be some individuals to be wary of or to whom you should focus the speech. For example, I knew an Air Force Major who would always direct his speech to the highest ranking officer in the audience. He knew who was important to his career in giving his presentations.
If you find out about some key people in the audience, you can use them in your opening comments to gain rapport with the audience. Everyone likes a humorous comment about the boss--at your expense, not at his or hers.
At the beginning of the talk
Comments you make at the beginning of the speech or presentation can give you clues about your audience and their expectations.
Comedian tested audience
Old-time comedian Milton Berle would start off his comedy routines before large audiences by telling five different types of one-liner jokes. From the reaction he got from the jokes, he would know if the majority of the audience was in the mood for silly humor, political humor, or blue jokes. Berle had an encyclopedic mind for jokes and comedy routines, so he would then present the routine that was effective for the particular audience that night.
Prepare for some modifications
Although, you can't be expected to have several versions of a speech or presentation, you can use some opening remarks and responses from the audience to give you an idea of the direction of their interest and perhaps their mood. If the audience seems in a light mood, perhaps you could sprinkle in a few jokes to keep their interest. If they seemed to be very serious about your topic, you could get right to the meat of the matter.
Don't be a self-centered speaker
Nothing is worse than going to a speech, wanting to hear some information, and having the speaker drone on and on about something of no interest to you or most of the audience. The speaker must get an idea in the beginning of his talk concerning what the audience wants--not what he or she wants to say.
During the talk
While you are giving a talk, you can often tell if the audience is enthralled with your material or if they are getting bored or restless. The problem usually occurs when the speaker is so caught up in what he or she is saying that the audience might as well not be there.
What's wrong with you people?
In a humorous talk, the speaker can usually tell if things aren't going good if there is silence and the audience is not laughing at the jokes. Some humorous speakers will blame the audience and say, "What's wrong with you people? This is funny material." Maybe it is funny to him, but apparently it isn't to this audience.
Don't get them bored
In any situation where it seems that the audience is getting restless or bored, the best thing to do is to summarize things and to end your talk. It is better to have a shorter speech than to go too long and bore people. This is true in any speech.
Benefits of knowing the audience
When you know what the audience wants and likes, when you know what mood the audience is in, and when you know something about the audience, they become more interested in what you have to say.
Often the speaker does not even have to be a good speaker, and sometimes the subject does not have to be very good, but if the audience feels there is good communication, they will listen and enjoy the speech. They will also give good recognition and applause for the effort.
Knowing the audience can result in the benefits you want form giving the talk.
A successful speaker achieves the goals of expression, listener satisfaction and desired rewards. You should be aware of your goals as you pursue success in speaking.
Relating to others will help you succeed
Resources and references
The following resources provide information on this subject:
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Know Your Audience Before Speaking to a Group