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Know Your Audience


Techniques Public speaking > Preparing the Presentation > Know Your Audience

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Research your audience before you start preparing the speech or presentation.

A core question to ask about the audience is what problem they have that you may address in your presentation. The ideal here is a big question that everyone has. In practice, you may need to show them they have a problem and then only some of the audience may be affected.

Other things you may want to investigate, depending on what you want to say and the effect you seek, include:

  • Demographics, such as:
    • Socio-economic level or grouping
    • Education level (and subject)
    • Nationality
    • Age ranges
    • Affiliations (such as to professional institutes)
    • Gender, ethnicity, religion, disability and other areas where equality issues may be important.
    • Family circumstance, including marital status and children / grandchildren
  • Their psychological profiles (particularly for smaller audiences such as senior management teams).
  • Their power and status (and how important this is to them)
  • Their first language.
  • Their preferred learning styles.
  • Their likely attention span.
  • Their time expectations (such as how long you should speak and when there should be breaks).
  • How knowledgeable in your subject they are (including if they may know more than you).
  • What interest they have in your subject (and how much you will have to stimulate interest).
  • What is likely to be on their mind at the moment.
  • Other factors that may help you determine how to persuade them to your cause.

Look for things you have in common that you can bring up to show similarity.

Depending on who the audience is, you can find information about them from their managers, peers, surveys, general demographic sources, their personal web pages and more. Sometimes you can even talk with them and ask them questions such as what kinds of presentation they like.

A critical question to answer using audience analysis data is one of respect. Will they naturally respect you? How can you increase that respect? Also consider how you can demonstrate your respect of them. In doing this, consider the similarities and differences between you and them.

You can use similarities in particular to draw them closer to you, especially if you can show unexpected similarities.


I am doing a sales presentation to business. I ask people I know there about the audience, their current work problems, their age range, etc. I also look up individuals on the internet and research the company and its history more deeply.

I use this to shape my presentation, for example I notice that a number of the people play golf and decide to drop an occasional golfing reference into the talk.


There is a world of difference between a generic speech and one that reaches out and touches the audience, making everyone think you almost know them personally. Perhaps surprisingly, it does not take a great deal of research to be able to do this.

Morgan (2003) suggests five dimensions on which you can analyze any audience:

  • Openness vs. closed: their receptiveness to new ideas.
  • Powerful vs. subservient: the power relationships in the room.
  • Engaged vs. disengaged: connection with the speaker.
  • Allied vs. opposed: the extent of agreement with you.
  • Committed vs uncommitted: the further buy-in to your ideas.

Researching your audience helps you address their needs and interests. This work also has the likely benefit of making you more comfortable. Just like in any conversation, it helps if you know who you are talking to.

How much you need to customize what you say may depend on your audience, how challenging your message is for them and how important it is that you change minds.

What you know about your audience may change when you are speaking. If you watch their body language they will tell you if they are enjoying themselves. When they speak, they will also let you know how impressed (or not) they are.

A clever method of knowing your audience that is very occasionally used is to develop your ability for remembering names and greet everyone as they come into the room, asking for their name. Then when you ask for questions, you can say 'Yes, Susan, what is your question'. Even if you get it wrong, few will challenge and it will impress most people.

See also

Social Research, Learning Theory


Morgan, N. (2003). Give Your Speech, Change The World, Harvard Business School Press


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