Audience Awareness

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize rhetorical approaches to building common ground
  • Evaluate rhetorical approaches to building common ground

Now you know a little bit about the people to whom President Obama was speaking and others whom he did not address or consider directly but who may have heard or read his speech nonetheless. The president had an immediate purpose to eulogize Reverend Pinckney for an audience of mourners, but he was also speaking to a more general audience of U.S. citizens concerned about racism, gun violence, civil rights, and inequality. The claims and evidence from his speech may therefore be relevant to other audiences who are concerned about similar issues and share some of the same ideas and values.

Even if you aren’t planning to become a politician, you have to think about audience for everything you say and do. This is even more important with social media. Some of the best examples of not thinking about unintended audiences or failing to build common ground come from social media. Think about the following fake social media post in terms of audience and common ground:

A social media post by a user named Louise McMarion. It is a photo of a storefront “Generic Store: Good deals in here”. The caption tags Badrhetoricgirl and noncommonground1 and reads “I hate working at @GenericStore. My managers are #lame. I steal from work a lot. #badkids.” The post has 17 likes.

What’s wrong here? Louise works at Generic Store and makes a social media post speaking poorly of her employer and admitting to criminal behavior. To add to that, she tags the store’s social media account in the post. Obviously, Louise is not considering unintended audiences. She may have meant to share her post only with “Badrhetoricgirl” and “nocommonground1,” but at least sixteen others have seen and responded to her post. It’s very likely that her employer would come across this post and take disciplinary action against Louise.

This example may seem ridiculous: maybe you are already wise to social media privacy settings, but this same kind of mistake takes place frequently in student writing and speaking.