Types of Audience
In public speaking, an audience is a group of listeners who listen to a talk or speech Analysing your audience type is essential in any public speaking engagement. You need to investigate exactly who will listen to what you are going to say. That way, you will know what format, style, vocabulary, or level or information is expected.
You can determine the characteristics of your target audience through a demographic profile, or by investigating information or assumptions about your particular audience.
Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Audiences
Audiences vary in homogeneity—the degree to which they have similar characteristics, values, attitudes, knowledge, and so on. Homogeneous audiences consist of individuals who are very much alike; heterogeneous audiences consist of widely different individuals.
Obviously, it is easier to address a homogeneous group than a heterogeneous group. If your listeners are alike, your arguments will be as effective for one as for another. The language appropriate for one will be appropriate for another, and so on, through all the elements of the public speaking transaction.
With a heterogeneous group, however, this does not apply. The argument that works with one subgroup will not necessarily work with another. The language that is appropriate for the educated members will not be appropriate for the uneducated, so when you address a heterogeneous audience you will have to make some tough decisions.
Homogeneity—heterogeneity also relates to the four dimensions just considered. Thus, audience homogeneity-heterogeneity applies to their
willingness to listen, their favourableness, their passivity, and their knowledge. For example, some audiences will be extremely similar (homogeneous) in their willingness to listen; others may contain members who differ widely in their willingness to listen.
Adapting to your Audience
Adapting to the Heterogeneous Audience. The most difficult audience to address is not the unwilling or the unfavorable or the unknowledgeable. It is the mixed audience: the audience consisting of some who care and some who do not, of some who know and some who do not. At times, addressing this type of audience will seem impossible.
It is not, so do not despair. Teachers face this type of audience every day, as do politicians and advertisers. Here are some general principles (rather than specific adaptation guidelines) for dealing with the heterogeneous audience. These should help you in this difficult but not impossible task.
The greater the heterogeneity of the audience, the more difficult will be your analysis and adaptation. A heterogeneous audience will require a much more complex audience analysis and a much more careful plan of adaptation than a homogeneous audience. Consider, for example, a PTA audience composed of parents (differing widely in income, education, and cultural background) and teachers (differing widely in background, training, and age). Each of these groups will have different points of view, backgrounds, and expectations. As a speaker you will have to recognize these differences and take special care to appeal to all groups.
When the audience is too heterogeneous, it is sometimes helpful to subdivide it and appeal to each section separately.
A common example is the audience consisting of men and women. Say the topic is abortion on demand. To limit yourself to arguments that would appeal equally to men and women might seriously damage your case. Consider, therefore, concentrating first on arguments that women can relate to and then on those to which men can relate. You thus avoid using supporting materials that fall in between the groups and that are effective with neither.
Homogeneity does not equal attitudinal sameness. The audience that is similar in age, sex, educational background, and so on, will probably also share similar attitudes and beliefs. However, this isn’t always true. Heterogeneity increases with the size of the group. As any group expands in size, its characteristics become more diverse—keep this in mind when you’re analyzing your audiences.
In Depth Audience Analysis – Your Key to Success
An experienced speaker knows the importance of properly preparing his/her material far enough in advance so he/she may have sufficient time to rehearse and “fine-tune” the speech. Unfortunately, this is not enough to assure that your speech or presentation is well received. Your speech preparation must also include gathering information about your audience and their needs. A well prepared speech given to the wrong audience can have the same effect as a poorly prepared speech given to the correct audience. They both can fail terribly.
It is critical that your preparation efforts include some amount of audience analysis. The more you know and understand your audience and their needs, the better you can prepare your speech to assure that you meet their needs. Speech preparation should use what I like to call the 9 P’s.
- Prior Proper Preparation
- Prevents Poor Performance
- of the Person Putting on the Presentation.
Nothing will relax you more than to know you have properly prepared. The stage fright or speech anxiety felt by many speakers is due to not knowing enough about the speaking environment or the audience. The more you know about your speaking environment and your audience, the more relaxed you will be when delivering your speech. Many speakers, however, often overlook the need to include any kind of audience analysis as part of their speech preparation. Proper audience analysis will assure that you give the right speech to the right audience. Most professional speakers send their clients a multi-page questionnaire in order to gather enough information about them and the speaking event to properly customize their speeches. Using the word “A-U-D-I-E-N-C-E” as an acronym, we have defined some general audience analysis categories that these surveys should include.
- A nalysis – Who are they? How many will be there?
- U nderstanding – What is their knowledge of the subject?
- D emographics – What is their age, sex, educational background?
- I nterest – Why are they there? Who asked them to be there?
- E nvironment – Where will I stand? Can they all see & hear me?
- N eeds – What are their needs? What are your needs as the
- C ustomized – What specific needs do you need to address?
- E xpectations – What do they expect to learn or hear from you?
- Develop specific questions which fit into each of these eight categories and ask the client or audience to tell you what they want. Essentially, ask them what they need and give it to them.
Audience Size and Room Layout
Audience size will determine the nature of your presentation, especially in terms of your delivery style and subject matter. If the audience is large, you may need to consider a more animated presentation style, taking into account the size of the auditorium and the possibility of people getting sidetracked by conversations and other distractions. You may need to invigorate your presentation with larger exhibits, attention-grabbers, and a more forceful speaking tone. Since a large audience requires bigger rooms, you will need to use microphones, screen projectors, and larger chalkboards or whiteboards. If the audience is small, you can use a more intimate, informal presentation style. This will make it easier for you to stay focused on each individual in the room.
The type of room, the shape of your environment, the arrangement of the furniture, and the distance between you and your audience are all factors that will affect your presentation. Will the presentation be held in an office, a hotel, an auditorium, a park, or a classroom? Will the presentation have a formal seating arrangement? The following table illustrates five types of physical layouts for presentations: conference style, auditorium, classroom/laboratory, banquet, and circular. Each layout has advantages and disadvantages:
Gathering the Information Note that there are two ways of obtaining the information you need for your speech: (1) your existing knowledge of the group and the setting; (2) questioning the person who invited you to speak. All audiences share certain general characteristics that will help you to understand them better. Let’s look at the sort of information you would obtain about an audience you do not know by asking the relevant questions:
- Why does the group exist? What goals does the group hope to fulfill? These two questions should help you to decide on a topic for speech and which aspect of your topic you should focus on. If your talk is about gardening and the audience is a group of house owners, you would assume that their goal is to make their gardens look attractive. You could focus your talk on what to plant for a colourful garden, or something similar. However, if they were a group of professional gardeners, their goal might be to learn about the biology of drought-resistant plants, for example, or a new form of pest control. In other words, the focus of your speech would depend entirely on the audience. What is the nature of the occasion at which I will the speaker? The answer to this question should help you to decide how formal or informal your speech will be.
- Can you share any insights about the make-up of the audience? The answers should provide you with demographic information about your listeners.
- What expectations do you believe audience members will have about the presentation? This information should tell you something about what the group considers acceptable or unacceptable. A religious group, for instance, would probably consider it appropriate if you speak on a topic related to its beliefs or the beliefs of another religion, or perhaps a moral question or social issue. But a topic that focuses on changing their religious beliefs or promoting legal prostitution would not be appropriate.
- Are you aware of any attitudes held by audience members that could have a positive or negative influence on your presentation? By now, you understand why it is important to find out whether your audience will agree with your views or strongly oppose them. If you know the audience is likely to disagree with your views, you will have to find ways of dealing with this.
How to use the Information: Adapting to your Audience
This section provides guidelines for ensuring that you do indeed prepare your speech for a specific audience. The guidelines are not difficult to understand – study them on your own. You should however note the information in the last paragraph of this section – that adapting your speech to the needs and interests of a specific audience requires a great deal of practice because it is one of the most important and difficult skills a public speaker has to learn.
Type of Audience and Occasion
Technical presentations can be made to children of all ages (from three up) and in a variety of settings, including classrooms, school auditoriums, parks, community centres, Boy/Girl Scout meetings, and camps. Even television and the Internet are ideal places to educate and inspire young people. When presenting to children, age and education level are critical factors to consider. In the United States, each age and grade level corresponds to general curriculum requirements. By asking teachers or other leaders in advance, you can gather the necessary information about what they have previously learned and what they are currently learning, to ensure that the information in your presentation conforms to their education level and interests. Culture is also a major factor, as children from different geographical settings (i.e., urban and rural) will have varied experiences and come from different racial and ethnic communities. Listed below are various situations where you might be speaking to children.
Both undergraduate and graduate students are typical audiences for technical presentations. Settings range from classrooms to laboratories, banquets, auditoriums, parks, student rallies, and seminar halls. These audiences include students studying both technical and non-technical disciplines. University students generally fall into a narrower age category, usually between 18 and 30. However they can also include adults of all ages. Unlike with children, age, culture and geographic origin are not as relevant as is their field of study. If you are communicating to students of mathematics, engineering, chemistry, or physics, you may take the liberty to be more technical in your approach.
However, if you are communicating to students in the liberal arts, business, or any other area that is not directly technical, you will have to tailor your approach to their area of study. In addition, there are also wide ranges of student cultures at the university level – a culture often deeply affected by current events, popular trends, the media, and special interests (e.g., human rights, environmental concerns, etc.)
Business and Processional
Business and professional groups will more likely be the audience you must communicate with most frequently. They involve a wide range of people: corporate executives and professionals from every field, including technology, finance, marketing, sales, product development, human resources, as well as non-work settings where people from a wide range of experiences may be present (such as at awards banquets). Settings range from small offices to conference rooms, hotels, auditoriums, laboratories, factories, universities, and corporate training facilities. With these audiences, you should point out the relevance of your subject matter to their professional field and industry, as well as a wide range of popular topics such as mass culture, trends, current events, economics, the media, and special interests.
Government and Institutions
Government and institutional audiences include federal and state organisations, governing bodies, and commissions, hospitals, schools, associations, universities, military, and other public and non-profit organisations. Settings range from small offices to conference rooms, hotels, auditoriums, laboratories, public halls, and government training facilities. With these audiences, you should aim to describe the relevance to their field (e.g., healthcare), organisational mission, and professional specialization (e.g., military), as well as a wide range of popular topics such as current events, economics, politics, and special interests. If you are testifying or advocating your cause before a government body, such as the National Assembly, expectations will be that you are an expert in your field. Your communications should take on a more authoritative, scientific tone. You should be prepared to back your ideas with data, case studies, and solid research.
Community Groups and the General Public
Community groups and general public audiences include civic organisations, neighbourhood groups, public advocacy groups, and public seminars. Settings range from civic centres to hotels, auditoriums, public halls, and churches. With these audiences, you should refer to their regional geographic interests, as well as a wide range of topics, such as current events, the media, popular culture, and your awareness of their particular concerns and interests in your subject matter.
Source:National Open University of Nigeria