Types of Audience Analysis

Learning Objectives

Explain different types of audience analysis.

Analyzing the Speaking Situation

Imagine if your boss came to you and said, “Great work on that last project. I’d really like you to present your findings.” What would be the first questions you’d ask? Most likely, you’d want to know more about the speaking situation. What’s the occasion? Where will it take place? Who will be in the audience? How many people will be there?

Occasion: Before preparing your speech, you should know as much as possible about the occasion. Why are you speaking? Are you the only one? Is there a wider significance, such as a celebration, a political event, or a commemoration, or are you the occasion? Since the latter is rarely the case, it’s wise to think about how the occasion or event will figure into your speech.

Man speaking into a megaphoneLocation: It’s always a good idea to know where you’re speaking. What is the building or room usually used for? If the speech is outdoors, what kind of space is it? Speakers often call attention to the location they’re speaking in: “In classrooms like this, students hear every day that they should put two spaces after a period. But today I intend to prove to you that a single space is more than enough.”

Time: When we think about the time in which we’re speaking, it’s not enough to know the speech is at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday; we also have to think about recent or ongoing events in the lives of our audience. An audience in Southern California might have forest fires on their mind or they might be thinking about a Lakers championship win the night before. A recognition of important shared experiences can show your audience you’re present with them. It can sometimes be helpful to look into notable events in history, or whether there are any significant anniversaries around the time of your presentation. For instance, if a speech about the internet were held around March 10, one could say, “Nearly 145 years ago to the day, Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call” and then riff on what Bell might say about the internet. Finally, it’s often a good idea to check the major religious calendars for the date of your event. If your celebration event coincides with a religious day of mourning, for instance, it can sometimes be a welcome gesture to point this out (though do your homework first if the religious observance isn’t known to you already).

Analyzing the Psychology of the Audience

Psychology is commonly defined as the science of behavior and mental processes. The speaker can look at the psychology of the individual audience members to determine how they might respond as a group to his or her ideas.

What is the current disposition of the audience toward the speech’s topic and purpose? If the speaker is attempting to persuade the audience to accept a particular idea or take an action, it is important to understand the starting point. What are the dominant values, beliefs, attitudes, and needs of the audience? The speaker must know how to use that knowledge to tailor the speech to the audience. Consider values, beliefs, attitudes, and needs as factors in the psychological makeup of the audience.

People in costume holding signs that say "Big Damn Heroes", "Shiny," "Rights for Vera," and "Sanity or Bust"Values can be defined as broad preferences concerning appropriate courses of action or outcomes. As such, values reflect a person’s sense of right and wrong or what “ought” to be. “Equal rights for all,” “Excellence deserves admiration,” and “People should be treated with respect and dignity” are statements of values. Values tend to influence attitudes and behavior.

Something that the speaker perceives as good may not be perceived as very good by members of the audience. Something that the speaker perceives as beautiful may not appear the same to the audience. A course of action that the speaker believes is right may not be endorsed by the audience. It is important to consider what the audience values as part of the overall psychological make up of the audience.

Beliefs are another important consideration. Members of the audience may believe that certain things exist or certain ideas are true. The speaker should attempt to identify and build upon shared beliefs to get the audience to consider or accept a particular belief that may be different from the ones they hold. The speaker can often build upon shared beliefs to establish common ground with the audience before advancing a new idea.

An attitude is a positive or negative evaluation of people, objects, event, activities, ideas, or just about anything in the environment. If the speaker knows the audience’s attitude toward the topic or thesis before the speech, he or she can make sure to address these attitudes during the speech preparation. Some ways to find out the audience’s attitude beforehand include rating scales or direct statements from audience members.

Analyzing the Demographics of the Audience

Demographic analysis looks at statistical information about a given population or group using criteria such as age, education, nationality, religion, gender, race, and ethnicity. We’ll look at demographic analysis more comprehensively in a few pages. For now, it’s important to put demographics in context and think about what they mean to our understanding of a given audience.

In a way, demographic data is more important as a check on our assumptions than as a basis for speculations about our audience. When we look out into a room full of people (or a screenful of video-conference squares or a list of names), we might be tempted to jump to conclusions: “Ah, it’s a room full of millennials” or “this webinar seems to be mostly older white women” or “no one here shares my demographics at all!” When we think demographically, on the other hand, we discover other groupings that might not be visible to the eye. Thinking demographically can also help us look beyond our preconceptions and biases by focusing our attention on data, not assumptions.


The video Audience Analysis from COMMpadres Media summarizes the types of audience analysis and introduces the methods of analysis described on the next page.

You can view the transcript for “Audience Analysis” here (opens in new window).