Understanding Your Audience

Values Beliefs and Characteristics

How well do you understand your audience?  That is a question all speakers should answer when preparing a presentation. Some may regard presenting TO an audience, rather than FOR an audience as semantics. However, both deliveries are different. When a speaker is preparing FOR an audience, they begin by researching mainly the values, beliefs, and characteristics of the group they will be facing. Speakers should also consider looking into the ages, gender, ethnicity, ability, and membership tenure. Of the group.  It’s also a good idea to start with your point of contact. Prepare a list of questions to understand the topics that will resonate best with that group. Once you have done your homework, you should have a pretty good understanding of what you should prepare FOR that audience.

Delivering TO an audience is a bit different. The speaker may choose a speech to inform, to persuade or to entertain. Similarly as when they are presenting FOR, their understanding of the audience’s makeup will help them determine how much is too much or enough.  Although the speaker’s topic usually is one with which the speaker is familiar or may even be an authority, the speaker’s goal is to connect with that audience. Speakers base their content on their experiences and knowledge. They are offering a slice of their life experiences to you. To diffuse discord, the speaker may use rhetorical questions. Speakers should also rely on their instincts and observations as they decide how to connect with the group they are addressing. A little understanding of the group will often lead to success.

Lifestyle can be an indicator of values, beliefs, and characteristics. Looks are sometimes deceiving. It’s always a good idea to compare your research with your first impressions.  Age, gender, ethnicity, and culture can influence everyone’s ability to relate to some topics. Speak to your audiences’ level of understanding. Audiences don’t like being lectured or preached to unless they planned to attend such an event. Be prepared to cite sources for the information you are presenting. Your delivery will determine how the group is receiving your message.  As you continue your delivery, read the reactions you are receiving from the group in real-time. Know what you want your listeners to think, feel or do after hearing your presentation. If your message is clear, concise, and you-focused, your audience’s understanding will keep increasing as you continue speaking.

If your delivery is all TO or all FOR your audience, that is a recipe for failure.  The goal is to make a connection while switching as you deliver. The speaker can deliver parts of their speech TO the audience and others FOR the audience. Decide where you will do your switching during your preparation. Use reminders in your script for your delivery. One approach that works well is the “speaking one to many” method when switching. The speaker focuses on one audience member. At the same time, everyone receives the messaging as if it was intended for them only. Delivery is where the rubber meets the road. Finally, whether you choose to deliver your presentation TO or FOR your audience, success or failure on the platform depends on how well you understand your audience. This talk was prepared FOR a Pathways-L3 project on Motivational Strategies.

Author: HenryOMiller

Henry joined Toastmaster in March of 1997. He is presently a member of five clubs in the Santa Cruz and San Jose area. Henry is an executive speech coach, humorist, and speechwriter. He is also a musician and a lyricist​ who likes to approaches his speechwriting similar to his approach to songwriting.