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Preparing to Speak Publicly Help (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

The Audience

At this point in your speechmaking, you may feel as though your public speaking engagement is going to be centered on you. After all, you'll be the one standing up in the front, and you'll be the one doing all the talking. But the truth is that your speech will not be centered around you; you will not be speaking for your own benefit, but for the benefit of your audience. It seems incongruous, but public speaking is an art that is centered on the audience, not on the person giving the speech.

Therefore, it will be important for you to know who will be in the audience when you give your talk. Returning to our previous example, if your speech is to be part of a college class on public speaking, your audience will consist of your fellow classmates and your teacher, and it will be in your best interests to tailor your speech to that audience—since at least one member of the audience will be grading your performance!

Analyzing your audience is usually a fairly simple procedure. If you're speaking to a church or civic group, for example, you are probably already a member of that group and know many of the people in the audience. Even if you have been invited to speak to a group of which you are not a member, you can still gain some basic information on the audience by learning what draws them together. A medical conference will probably be attended by medical professionals, for example, and what draws them together is their mutual interest in medical and health issues. You could safely conclude that such an audience would be filled with well-educated professionals, and they would most likely be interested in a speech that addressed some aspect of health and medicine. A civic group such as the local Lions Club or Rotary Club will be made up of a more diverse audience in terms of education and professional background, but they will all be drawn together in a common interest of serving the local community. In that case, you would want to address a topic related to community service.

If you should find yourself speaking to an audience with whom you are completely unfamiliar, you will need to do a little research before beginning your speech. Here are some methods that will help you gain information:

  • Ask the person who invited you for detailed information on the audience. That person obviously feels you have something to share that will interest the audience; find out what it is.
  • Spend time talking with some individuals who will be in the audience. Ask them for one or two other contacts with whom you can also speak, and ask them what they would be most interested in hearing about.
  • Read about the organization on their website or in their brochures or marketing materials.
  • Use the Internet to gain background information on the individuals who will be in the audience and on the organization as a whole.
  • Visit whatever venue draws the group together. For example, attend a club meeting or event; if it's a group of local merchants, such as the Chamber of Commerce, visit some of the local businesses that are members. Become familiar with the group's area(s) of common interest.

Once you have gained some insight into the audience, you will need to gather some basic information on the meeting at which you will be speaking. Here are some things you will need to know:

  • Where will the meeting take place? (This question is important, and we will address it further in this chapter.)
  • How large will the audience be?
  • What will be the purpose of this meeting?
  • What will the audience expect to hear from those who are speaking?
  • Will there be other people speaking besides you? If so, where will your speech come in the agenda?
  • How long should your speech be?
  • How much will the audience already know about your topic? Will you be speaking to experts in the field, or introducing some new topic with which they are unfamiliar?
  • What is the age range of the audience? Will you be speaking to a group of high-school students, to senior citizens, or to a wide mix of ages?
  • Will your topic be something with which the audience will be in agreement, or might they be somewhat hostile to your ideas?

As you can see, knowing details about your audience will determine a great deal about the speech you write. In this sense, the audience largely determines what you will say, before you have even started writing your speech! A person could be invited to speak on quantum physics to a group of high-school students, but that speech would be vastly different if it were given to a group of rocket scientists. That's because public speaking is entirely focused on the audience, not on the speaker.

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