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Audience Analysis from the Experts

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Be sure you know what type of speech you are giving and analyze your audience accordingly.

It's time proven advice to "know your audience!" This is especially true if you are taking your speaking skills "on the road" to non-Toastmasters groups. Audience analysis helps you tailor your topic to their needs and interests and may save you from some serious social blunders. For most of us, 'getting to know the audience" means asking a few questions ahead of time and finding out something about our listeners. That's good advice, but what questions should you ask?

The answer depends on how you want to relate to your audience, the atmosphere you want to create and the purpose of your speech. These factors set up your audience's expectations about you and yours about them. To find out more about audience analysis, I contacted eight experts, each specializing in a specific type of speech, and asked them how they do it. The eight types of speeches cover a range of presentations that are most familiar to Toastmasters: Inspirational/Motivational, Informative, Humorous, Sales Presentations, Technical Briefings, Political/Persuasive, Training Programs, and Master of Ceremonies. The speakers I interviewed were:

• Willie Jolley, a 1999 Toastmasters International Outstanding Speaker, motivational/inspirational speaker, President of Willie Jolley Worldwide, and author of It Only Takes a Minute to Change Your Life!

• Jeff Davidson, founder of the Breathing Space Institute of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, an informative speaker on topics such as management, competition and communication, and an award-winning author of more than two dozen books, including The Complete Guide to Public Speaking.

• Tom Antion, humorist, President of Tom Antion and Associates Communication Company of Landover Hills, Maryland, author of Wake Em Up!, and manager of an Internet magazine on public speaking.

• Gregg Baron, President of Success Sciences Incorporated in Tampa, Florida, a certified management and sales consultant and author of The Sales Professionals Idea-A-Day Guide.

• Jim Litchko, President of Litchko and Associates, of Kinsington, Maryland, a consultant, trainer and national expert on Cyber-Terrorism and Internet Security. Joel Blackwell, of Reston, Virginia, a "Grass Roots" consultant to lobbying organizations, and author of Personal Political Power.

• Jo Condrill, former Toastmasters International Director and District 27 Governor, President of GoalMinds, Incorporated, specializing in leadership training, teambuilding, and coaching, and author of Take Charge of Your Life.

• Joyce Kaye, of Joyce Kaye Comedy Enterprises in Parkland, Florida, a comedy-writer, musician and singer.

Talking to these pros was great fun! They offered a wealth of good general advice and some insider secrets as well. Read on to find out what these experts had to say about the best ways to know an audience.


Almost all the speakers I contacted send out questionnaires in advance of their presentations to meeting planners, training coordinators or whoever does the hooking. The responses help speakers know what to expect about the environment in which they will speak and the people they will be addressing. The questionnaires ask about audience demographics, such as education, age-range, gender, occupation and ethnic diversity. A technical speaker, such as Jim Litchko, wants to know about the level and range of expertise in his audience. Jo Condrill wants to make sure her training objectives match organizational needs and expectations. Even audience gender counts where humor is concerned. Says Tom Antion, "Women laugh easier and let their egos down. Men look around to see who else is laughing."

Logistics are also an important consideration: Who will be making the introduction for the speech? Where is the location? What is the room layout? You may be surprised to know that tile time of day is a significant consideration. Antion says:

If an organization (or corporation) hosts your speech, ask additional questions about the organization: its mission, goals, motto, history, achievements and challenges. Are they growing or downsizing? Who are the key people who will be in the audience, and what are their titles, roles and responsibilities? Who are the heroes in this organization? What are some of the "war stories"? Are there any sensitive topics to steer around? What have they liked and not liked about previous speakers? What is the dress code? With this information, you can tailor your speech to the organization's culture, philosophy, challenges, strengths and needs. If your speech is part of a larger event, such as a conference, ask about the event: What's the theme, purpose, the location and program agenda? Will there be media coverage? Are other activities going on at the same time as your speech?

The experts send their questionnaires via mail or e-mail. Jeff Davidson advises a follow-up phone interview for clarification on the questionnaire responses, or if the questionnaire isn't returned at all.

Find out what the audience wants and what will win them over! Jeff Davidson asks his sponsors, "What would you like to get from my presentation? What would make it among your best ever?" To Willie Jolley, the most important questions are, "How do you want people to feel when my presentation is finished?" and "If there's one thought you want people to have when they leave, what is it?"


With research, your can learn even more about the organization hosting your speech and about its members. Visit the organization's Web site. Read the biographies of its leaders. Look at its newsletters, press releases, organizational charts, sales figures, brochures and press clips. Talk to colleagues or friends who know about this organization. Here's a smart tip from Jeff Davidson: "I ask for the speaker evaluation form, if they have one, as it plays a large role in whether I get rebooked."

If your speech is political in nature, do some research on the opposition, as Joel Blackwell advises:

An audience at apolitical speech may be divided on the issues. You have to know where they stand. Know the opponent's arguments as well as your own. Find someone who is happy to tell you why they disagree with you. Look at what your opponent is saying and doing. Read their campaign literature. Then talk about what you are for, rather than what you are against. Emphasize the positive. People don't vote for you because of where you stand on the issues ... They vote for you based on whether they like you or not. It's less about what you say and more about who you are.

Tom Antion tells us that even a humorist needs to do some research:

When I speak to an organization, I get copies of its newsletters and trade publications. I sift through them and brew over them. As an outsider, I can play dumb. It's hilarious, because I show people how funny their industry seems to an outsider, and bow their jargon can have different meanings and double entendres. I once spoke to an organization of pharmacists. I ordered a copy of their journal, and just about busted a gut laughing! There was a very serious, in-depth article about the effects of a chemical on the flatulence of cows! I said, "Who measures this sort of thing? How do they do it? What are their job qualifications?" You don't need canned jokes. Just keep your eyes open - humor is everywhere!

Why is this research so important? Gregg Baron has the best answer:

"The up-front work is not just about being prepared. It's about the audience knowing I have taken the time to understand who they are and what's special about them! ... The answers are in the questions you ask. The highest leverage you have in business is your ability to think in advance. The more information you can gather, the more time you have to think, plan, and optimize your moment of opportunity."


Another strategy is to conduct phone interviews with a sampling of audience members. Trainer Jo Condrill notes that phone interviews create "allies" in your audience before you've even set foot on the platform. Here again, the questions you ask are based on your type of speech.

Sales presentations, for example, require unique questions about the organization's needs and decision-making process. Gregg Baron says:

I ask ... about employee performance. "What makes this audience effective, and what prevents them from being as effective as possible?" I ask about the buying process. "Tell me about the process your organization uses to make a decision about this kind of product or service and to invest in this kind of solution. " I shape my presentation around their decision process. I ask what solutions they are considering to identify the competition.... For direct competition, I play up the advantages of my solution. For indirect competition, I ask, "What is appealing about that direction and how does it fit your business plan? How does it solve your problem, without unintended outcomes?" Then I show how my solution avoids unanticipated negative outcomes. I ask, "no are the stakeholders in the solution?? Are they concerned about cost, timing or quality? What else might affect their decision?" My goal is to establish credibility, rapport and comfort with me.

Comic and emcee Joyce Kay uses interviews to gain insight about the people she will introduce or roast:

For a retirement ceremony or roast, I ask about the guest of honor. I produce a custom piece of material based on that person's life. It is nostalgic and humorous. I ask about their childhood, marriage, talents and lifestyle. Maybe they like golf, or they're a great dancer. I ask about habits. Does he smoke a cigar and everyone hates it? If he has a motto, I use it to get the audience involved. If his motto is "Teamwork, " I have the audience shout "Teamwork! Teamwork!" as the guy walks up on stage. I also want to know how he reacts to humor. Is he easy-going or sensitive?

Tom Antion uses phone interviews to find additional sources of humor:

I get a cross-section of people from different departments. I call and tell them who I am. They think, "Whoa! The program speaker is calling me?" I reassure them I'm not a management spy -just want to do a great job on stage, and I want their help. This builds rapport, gives me the inside scoop on the organization, and these. folks are more likely to laugh during my presentation. I ask about their work challenges. If I hear the same things over and over, there is potential there for big laughter:"

Here's my "asterisk" technique. It's the reason I never have hecklers. I ask the meeting planner for a list of audience members and say, "Put an asterisk beside anyone who could be trouble - someone who's always griping, say. " If it's 'Jerry," I call on ferry. ferry - can you give me a hand? You've been around a while, and I need your opinionů" I butter him up! Now, what's the chance that he's going to heckle me? He'll rave about me! So if you are ever in my audience and I see an asterisk next to your name ... hmmmmm!


On the clay of your presentation, arrive early and mix with audience members beforehand. Joyce Kaye advises that you mingle with the audience before your speech, and get a "sense of their culture." Mixing will give you additional anecdotes for your speech, and create a rapport when it's your time on the platform. Joel Blackwell gives this advice about political speeches:

Before my speech, I work the crowd and "press the flesh". I ask people what is on their minds and weave that into my speech. I pull someone out of the audience. I interview them and make their story a part of my speech. I tell politicians, "Grip people with a good story! Get the drama behind the issues ... the story of a lining, breathing human being... specific details, names, dates, and places."

Technical briefer Jim Litchko agrees that meeting with audience members one-on-one enhances his delivery and his reception:

I arrive about 90 minutes early to set up. As attendees arrive, I talk to them. I ask, "What do you do for this company? What do You want to know?" If they tell me about a security problem, I incorporate similar case studies into my talk. If someone offers an opinion on security, I incorporate that, giving them credit for the idea. It helps me connect with the audience in an open, positive way.

Tom Antion targets organization leaders for his "warm-up:"

If the head honcho doesn't laugh, no one else will. Their minds are elsewhere - on the sales budget, or something else. I get to the CEOs ahead of time and coach them. I say, "Look, you hired me. People take their cues from you. If you want people to have a good time, act like you're having a good timer"


Audience analysis doesn't stop when your speech finally begins. The speakers I contacted continue to analyze the audience from the platform by calibrating the audience's reaction and response. Joyce Kaye says, 'I throw out a one-liner and see how they react. If they like it, I keep going. If not, I 'wing it."' Willie Jolley puts it this way:

I learned early on to judge the. feel of the room. 1 go in with a plan, but I remain flexible. I watch their body language, because I want people on the edge of their seats. I listen for the laughter. I Built them 'wowed!" I may bring in more humor, or tell a story, or sing a song. You have to 'know when to hold them and know when to fold them. "My audience analysis is continuous.


Finally, audience analysis is also about sensitivity to your listeners' feelings. Part of the success in learning about your audience lies in understanding how to get your message across in acceptable and appealing ways. Joyce Kaye says:

With an organization, you walk softly. I never insult anyone. These people aren't professional entertainers. When I introduce people, some of them are shaking in their shoes because they have to get up and say something. Comedians think in threes. If my audience wants a serious business presentation, I give excitement, enthusiasm and enemy. If they want to have fun, I keep them alert, awake and anticipating my next introduction.


Speaking to new audiences is an exciting challenge that will sharpen your speaking skills, expand your networking opportunities and spread your message. As you can tell from the advice of these experts, audience analysis is an ail. So tailor your topic to your audience and take your speech on the road. Just be sure you know what type of speech you are giving and analyze your audience accordingly.

By Judith_Peerson

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