Collecting Demographic Information

Observation

So what methods can you use to analyze your audience, especially in a classroom setting? Generally, the two methods most commonly used for audience analysis are observation and survey. Obviously, observation is as it sounds-you watch and listen to the individuals in your audience over the course of several days or weeks. If you think about it, you already do this without being completely conscious of it. As you chat during a break, you may find out that many of the students in your class are closely following an upcoming election. They have already formed opinions of the candidates and have their own reasons for choosing one over the other. Or perhaps several students in your small group share that they are single parents struggling to balance school, work, and children. While these tidbits of information are normally simply acknowledged and stored away in the recesses of your brain, you are, in fact, finding information that could help you prepare for an upcoming speech to these students. Your classmates are voicing their values, beliefs, and attitudes, as well as providing you with great demographic information such as age, household composition, and political preference. In this case, all you had to do was to actively listen to the chitchat and conversations going on around you.

While actually having your audience tell you what interests and concerns them is the easiest way to gather information, you can also collect data by watching and making simple observations. For instance, you might notice that the student who sits in front of you always wears t-shirts to class that proclaim a message such as Save the Planet or Freedom to Dafur. Simply taking note of this student’s choice of clothing might reasonably lead you to believe that s/he has an awareness-and perhaps even a strong opinion-regarding the current events in the world. Or you might observe that several students in the class wear military uniforms when they attend lectures. Having several audience members who serve in the military allows you to make some reasonable assumptions. These students are most likely patriotic and, like the student wearing the t-shirts, probably have some knowledge and interest in world events. They may not necessarily approach the issues from the same viewpoint, but you might safely assume that a presentation that makes reference to world events would be of interest to these students. Naturally, you do need to take precautions not to stereotype individuals, and you may periodically find that your assumptions are in error, but observation is certainly one of the more natural forms of information collection.

Surveying

A less naturalistic-but generally more reliable-form of data collection is the use of surveys. Surveys are common in our society today. Retailers and restaurants will often offer discounts to their customers who are willing to take an online survey. Government entities and consumer groups may ask you to participate in a phone survey. In each case, the survey is simply a list of questions that are designed to gather demographic information-age, gender, and income-helpful to the organization behind the request. Some survey requests come from nonprofit organizations or universities conducting polls. Likewise, it should not be surprising to find that retailers desire a clear profile of the shoppers who frequent the mall or shopping center in which they are located. How much income does the typical shopper have available to spend on luxury items or frivolous purchases? Who is most likely to shop between 9:00 a.m. and noon? The more a group can pinpoint who is shopping or dining in the vicinity of their establishment, the better they can serve those clients and gauge the effectiveness of their public relations tactics, menu changes, pricing decisions, and so on.

In a classroom setting, such as a speech or communication class, you again have an advantage; you know where and when you can gain access to these potential audience members so that the distribution and collection of a survey is fairly simple. Your main focus, however, should be to design a survey that gathers valid and reliable information in a straightforward manner. While entire companies (or departments within companies) exist to create and conduct official surveys, your surveys do not necessarily have to be as complex or lengthy. Your basic goal is to ask the questions that you feel will provide you with an insight into the background, experiences, and interests of your audience members. The following chart taken from Cindy Griffin’s Invitation to Public Speaking (262) provides a brief synopsis of tips a presenter should keep in mind as s/he designs a survey.

There are several Websites that offer design tips and/or assistance in creating surveys, so feel free to investigate as needed. A couple of sites include SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang . Remember, however, that part of the process of speaking well is writing well. Your goal is to create a unique survey with clear questions that best elicit the answers you need from your audience, not finding and adapting someone else’s survey for your purposes. The following exercise will help you as you begin the process of designing your audience survey.