Boundless Communications

Analyzing the Audience

Contextual Factors to Consider

Physical Context

Consider physical contexts—traditional face-to-face with co-located audience versus delivery via videoconference to remote audience(s).

Learning Objectives

Identify the types of physical context you may encounter and plan your speech accordingly

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Consider three possible contexts —traditional speaker face -to-face audience, and computer mediated —speaker with live audience to remote locations(s) and a speaker with no live audience to different locations by video conferencing technology.
  • The physical context for the co-located audience is the setting or room where you speak. Ask whether you are indoors or outdoor, the size and arrangement of the seating, the significance of the location and occasion, the time of day for the speech and what equipment is available.
  • Checking out the physical context will allow you to adjust your speech and plan so you are not attempting to borrow or move equipment before getting up to speak.
  • Speakers may use a videoconferencing system—with video camera or webcam with microphone for input, output through monitor or TV with speakers or headset, internet or digital telephone connection for data transfer and computer for processing—to speak to remote audiences.
  • Non-portable videoconferencing is used in large rooms or dedicated conferencing rooms with all required components packaged into an equipment console and portable systems are used for audiences in meeting rooms and for video seminars with webcam, microphone, computer and internet connection.
  • With video conferencing delivery the speaker is challenged to maintain eye contact, become familiar with his own image to address appearance consciousness and avoid rapid gestures in consideration of streaming lag time.

Key Terms

  • co-located: To locate or be located at the same site, for two things or groups at same space.

The physical context is the setting where the speech occurs. You can prepare for three different contexts--face to face with co-located audience, a speaker with live audience to remote audiences and a speaker with no live audience to different remote locations by video conferencing technology.


Co-Located Audience: An audience listens to a speaker in an auditorium at the University of Liège.

Physical Context for the Co-Located Audience

The physical context for the co-located audience is the setting or room where you speak. There are a number of questions to consider about the space. Here is a checklist:

  • What is the size of the room or other area?
  • If outdoors, where is the location, what is the weather, temperature, and noise?
  • Is there any significance to the location such as a historic landmark or memorial?
  • Is this a special occasion such as holiday celebration or anniversary of an event at the site?
  • What is the anticipated size of the audience and the arrangement of seating?
  • Will there be a stage, podium or lectern?
  • What equipment is available such as microphone, computer, or projection system?
  • Will there be an ethernet or wi-fi connection?
  • What time of the day will your speech occur, will the audience be awake, or sleepy after eating?

If you are not the only speaker, you want to confirm the order of speaking with the emcee so you know where and when you can get access to any equipment needed for your presentation. Checking out the physical context will allow you to plan so you are not attempting to borrow or move equipment before getting up to speak.

Physical Context for the Combined Co-Located with One or More Secondary Locations

You may find yourself speaking in one primary location with the audio or video of your speech being streamed live to other secondary locations. You will be aware of your primary location but you will not know what is happening in the other locations. When you have a live audience co-located in front of you it will be easier to relate to and respond to the audience and avoid many of the problems associated with delivery by webcam or web conferencing only technology.

Physical Context when Speaking to Remote Locations by Video Conferencing Technology

With video conferencing you deliver a message to two or more locations by computer mediated communication. You may deliver the speech to another location with no interaction or you may engage in two way interaction with the different locations. In order to video conference you will need access to the basic components:


Remote Audience: Rear Adm. J. Kevin Moran, the commander at the Naval Personnel Development Command (NPDC) in Norfolk, Virginia, speaks by video conference to an audience at the Center for Aviation Technical Training (CNATT).

  • Video input: video camera or webcam
  • Video output: computer monitor, television or projector for the audience
  • Audio input for the speaker: microphones, CD/DVD player, cassette player, or any other source of PreAmp audio outlet
  • Audio output for the audience: usually loudspeakers connected with the display monitor or TV
  • Data transfer: analog or digital telephone network, LAN or Internet
  • Computer: a data processing unit that ties together the other components, does the compressing and decompressing, and initiates and maintains the data linkage via the network.

There are basically two kinds of videoconferencing systems which you may encounter:

  • Non-portable are used for large rooms or small dedicated conferencing rooms. They have all required components packaged into a single equipment console.
  • Portable systems are available for use with small audiences in small meeting rooms and for video seminars. You can create your own simple system with webcam, microphone, headset or speakers. You can now deliver the message using a broadband internet connection to a small group audience at minimal or no cost.

Since you do not have a live audience in front of you while speaking in this context, there are several issues to address:

  • Eye contact: Eye contact plays a large role in large and small group communication. Many video conferencing systems give the impression that the speaker is avoiding eye contact. You may find it necessary to practice with the camera and study how eye contact will be perceived by the remote audience and adjust accordingly.
  • Appearance consciousness: A second psychological problem with videoconferencing is being on camera, with the video stream possibly even being recorded. The anxiety may be similar to stage fright but there is a difference since you really do not know how the remote listeners are reacting to you. Check out how you appear by recording a sample of your speech and viewing it to adjust to being "on camera. "
  • Signal latency: An increased latency (time lag) larger than about 150–300 ms becomes noticeable and is soon observed as unnatural and distracting. With high bandwidth systems, the latency problem is minimized but you are still well advised to minimize quick moves and rapid gestures while speaking, since some audience members may have slower connections.

Overall Psychology of Your Audience: Values, Beliefs, Attitudes, and Needs

Use psychographics of values, needs, attitudes, and beliefs to develop an audience profile and to tailor the speech's specific message.

Learning Objectives

Examine your audience's values, needs, attitudes, and beliefs to cater your speech to their particular profile

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Look at the psychology of the individual audience members to determine how they might respond as a group to the speech's ideas.
  • The overall psychographic of the audience includes the current state of values, beliefs, attitudes, and needs, and is not concerned with how the person developed them.
  • Use knowledge of the values, attitudes, beliefs, and needs of members of your audience to develop and describe a psychographic profile in order to tailor a message specifically to the audience.

Key Terms

  • psychographics: The study of personality, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles; not to be confused with demographic variables such as age and gender

Psychographics of a Given Audience

The demographics of the audience gives the speaker one type of picture based on variables such as age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, culture, race, and ethnicity; however, there is another equally important picture based on the overall psychological make-up of the audience, or the psychographics of the audience. Psychographics can be used to describe and develop a profile of the individuals in a given audience. Speakers can also use psychographics to select an audience that meets a certain profile, and then tailor a message specifically to that profile.

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. The speaker wants to look at the current state of values, beliefs, attitudes, and needs, and not consider how the person developed them.

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 make-up of the audience.


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. For example, if someone who values equal rights for all goes to work for an organization that treats its managers much better than it does its workers, he or she may form the attitude that the company is an unfair place to work; consequently, this person may not produce well or may perhaps leave the company. It is likely that if the company had a more egalitarian policy, his or her attitude and behaviors would have been more positive.

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.


The speaker should consider how close the audience's beliefs in something or someone or about the world, both physical and spiritual, are to his or her own beliefs. 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 which 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.


Attitudes can play a very important role in speech preparation. 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.


If members of the audience need certain things either physically or psychologically, the speaker should consider how to satisfy those needs. One classical breakdown of needs is Maslow's hierarchy of needs. If the speak understands where the members of the audience are on Maslow's hierarchy, he or she can show how his or her ideas help the audience satisfy those needs.

Audience Opinion of You and Your Topic

Examine favorability in relation to how the audience views both you and the topic for your speech.

Learning Objectives

Examine the favorability of your audience toward you and your topic

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Your audience is likely to have an opinion about you prior to the speech. What is your favorability rating with your audience?
  • To find favorability ratings about national topics, look at opinion polls on the attitudes of large group of people that may represent or include your audience.
  • To find favorability ratings about local community topics, conduct a survey with your audience or informally mine online data for negative and positive sentiments among your social media friends and followers,who may be similar to your audience.

Key Terms

  • favorability: The quality or degree of being viewed favorably

The favorability of a speaker can be considered in relation both to the speaker and to the topic.

Favorability of the Speaker

National opinion polls are conducted regularly to report on the favorability of celebrities and politicians. For example, in 2012 regular reports were created based on changes in favorable and unfavorable ratings for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Pollsters used surveys to sample the nation to determine how people rated the candidates on a number of different questions, and reported the favorabilty of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama as it changed based on the survey results.

You may not be a prominent speaker or politician who is the focus of opinion polls, but your audience is likely to have an opinion about you prior to the speech. Quintilian, a classical rhetorician, insists that the speaker is "a good man speaking well. " The speaker should strive to be a morally and ethically good man or woman, and strive to be viewed by other as such.

When preparing your speech, consider how your audience might rate you. Do you need to do "damage" control or repair your reputation before or while you are speaking? What is your favorability rating with your audience? How many thumbs up would you get from your audience?


Facebook Thumbs Up Icon: The thumbs up icon is used on Facebook to indicate that a reader likes the content.

Favorability toward Topic

You will also notice that opinion pollsters report on the attitudes of large group of people about different topics of national interest. For example, consider Congress or particular pieces of legislation such as health care. Does Congress have a high favorability rating? What is the favorability rating for the Health Care Act? The overall favorability rating may be good nationally, and better in some regions than others, but bad particularly among members of the Republican Party in the Congress. If you are speaking about a topic that is currently popular with the media, you are likely to find different opinion polls to assist you.

If your topic is more local and personal, you may want to collect your own data. You can conduct a simple survey with rating scales to find out exactly how your audience views the topic or thesis for your speech. You might also want to informally data mine by checking your followers or friends who may be similar to your audience; how many "likes" are expressed?

Knowledge of the Audience About Your Topic

Consider the knowledegeabilty of your audience, prior to the speech, formative during the speech, and summative after the speech.

Learning Objectives

Define the three types of knowledgeability: prior, formative, and summative

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Discovering knowledgeability, the state or condition of possessing knowledge, involves careful assessment by the speaker prior to, during and after the speech.
  • Assess prior knowledge (what your audience already knows) so that you can adjust your content. Ask yourself: How much does my audience already know about my topic ? Where do you start you explanation?
  • Assess formative knowledge (knowledge forming in the mind of the audience during the speech) to adjust what you are saying.. If your audience is confused, try again to explain what you were saying in different words or with better supporting examples.
  • Assess summative knowledge at the end of or after your presentation to find out what your audience knows or beliefs after your speech.

Key Terms

  • knowledge: Familiarity or understanding of a particular skill, branch of learning, etc.
  • formative: Of or pertaining to the formation and subsequent growth of something. acquired.
  • summative: Of, pertaining to, or produced by summation. The adding up of what has been learned or what knowledge has been acquired at the end of lesson or presentation.

Discovering Three Types of Knowledgeability

Discovering knowledgeability, the state or condition of possessing knowledge, involves careful assessment of the audience by the speaker prior to, during, and after the speech. The speaker wants to think about and contemplate the world of the audience to understand what they know.

A picture of Rodin's sculpture, The Thinker.

Knowledge: A speaker must consider the level of the audience's knowledge when preparing a speech.

Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something, which can include facts, information, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can also be more or less formal or systematic. In this case, knowledgeability is the condition or state of knowing by the members of the audience. The audience may know more about one topic and less about another. The types of knowledge are also different--the audience may know about something but not know how to use the know to actually do something.

There are at least three types of knowledgeability: Prior, formative, and summative. To distinguish the three one might think about a cook. A cook gathers the ingredients (prior), tastes the soup while it is cooking (formative), and lets the diner judge it at the end (summative).

Prior Knowledge

Prior knowledge is the knowledge that the audience already has about your topic. If your idea or concept is unfamiliar to the audience you may assume that they know nothing and start from the very beginning. However, you may want to "pre- assess " your audience to see how much they know so that you can adjust your content to the level of understanding. Where do you start you explanation? How much does your audience already know about about your topic? You don't want to explain things that everyone already knows about and bore most of the audience, yet at the same time you want to make sure that everyone does understand your ideas. You want the audience to leave with an understanding which was greater than when they walked into the room or turned on their computer to listen to your speech.

Formative Knowledge

Formative knowledge is the knowledge that is forming in the mind of the audience during the speech. It is the what the audience is learning (or not learning) during your speech. You may assess understanding with a simple question and answer session or you may find it useful to use an Audience Response System at different points in the speech to ask the audience short, quick questions to see where they are at that point. If you see confused looks on the faces of audience members or turning to neighbors with questions, you know that you need to try again to explain what you were saying in different words or with better supporting examples.

Summative Knowledge

Summative knowledge is the knowledge that the audience leaves with after your speech. What is the level of understanding at the end of your speech? Do they know more or can they do something which they could not do before the speech? Again you may ask the audience to complete a short questionnaire at the end or use an Audience Response System with automatic result tabulation to see how the audience has changed.

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