Analyzing your Audience
by Stacy DeGeer


What is Audience Analysis?

Audience analysis is the process of examining information about your listeners. That analysis helps you to adapt your message so that your listeners will respond as you wish. (1)  

In everyday conversations you adapt your message to your audience. For example, if you went to a party the night before, you would explain the party differently to your friends and family. To your best friend you might say, "We partied all night and there were tons of people there." To your mother you might say, "Oh, I had fun with my friends." And to your significant other you might say, "It was fun, I had a great bonding time with my friends." In each of these situations, you are adapting your message to your listening audience.

There are three phases in audience analysis: adaptation before, during, and after the speech.

I. Audience Analysis - Adapting to your audience before you speak

When we analyze our audience, there are three ways to do this; demographic analysis, attitudinal analysis, and environmental analysis.

Examples of Demographic Analysis Questions:

  • What is the age of people in the audience?

  • Are there significant cultural differences within the audience?

  • What is the educational level of the audience

  • How many males and females are there in the audience






Demographic Analysis involves age, gender, culture, ethnicity, race, religion, and educational level. Aristotle noted more than 2,000 years ago that few things affect a person's outlook more than his or her age. (2)

As college students we watch the same kinds of shows and listen to the same types of music and have a common history. We all remember "The Office," Back to the Future, Lady Gaga, and the Iraq War. These are all things that we have in common. If I were to do a speech about any one of these topics, I know that I may not have to explain who or what to an audience of my own age. Age is a very important factor and can be very helpful in picking a topic.

Gender is another characteristic. It is important to find out the ratio of men to women in the class. Also, make sure that you do not use any sexist language, stereotypes or make jokes about gender. If you were to insult men in front of a class of 12 men, then in most cases these 12 men are not going to listen to you for the rest of your speech. You may have also lost your credibility.

Culture is the shared knowledge, behavior, attitudes, beliefs, values, and norms of a group. It is very important to be sensitive to students of other culture's feelings. You may do or say something that may offend them. Ethnicity is a person's national or religious heritage. There may be a student from China Town in Chicago, or a student from Little Italy in New York. A person's race is a person's biological heritage. It is important to learn as much as possible about these students before your speech, so you are sure not to offend them or anger them.

Another touchy subject is religion. Be very careful when you speak about different religions because people feel very strongly about their beliefs.

And finally, the education background of your listeners can help your choice of vocabulary, language style, and your use of examples. This can help you select and narrow your topic.

Attitudinal Analysis addresses the audience's attitudes, beliefs, and values. 

  • An attitude defines what a person likes or dislikes. When you choose a topic, it is important to find out your audience's attitudes toward the subject. If you are doing a speech on rap, does your audience like rap. 
  • A belief is what you believe to be true or false. You may believe that rap is destroying the minds of young teenagers. 
  • And a value is "a person's beliefs or standards." (4) You may value the future and the young minds that will be running the future. It is very important to find out before your speech what people's attitudes are about your subject. If you know these three things, it will be much easier to bring your audience to the responses that you want.  

Sample Attitudinal Analysis Questions       

  • What are the audience's beliefs, and attitudes, toward the topic?

  • What are the relevant audience values and motives in regard to this topic?

Environmental Analysis is finding out things like the seating arrangement, the number of people likely to attend, and the room lighting.  The way the seats are arranged will affec the audience's response. It is also important to know how many people will be there for the speech. And the way the room is lighted will affect the way the audience responds. If it is dark and the speaker is showing overheads, there will not be conversation. But if the room is light and open, the audience may feel more free to talk. The seating arrangement, the number of people and the room lighting are all factors that will affect the speech.

Sample Environmental Analysis Questions

  • How many will be in the audience?

  • How will the seating be arranged?

  • Will there be a podium?  a microphone?

  • Will there be noise and distractions?

  • Will I have access to A.V. equipment?

Questionnaires and Interviewing

There are many ways to obtain the answers to these questions in each section. You can gather information by handing out questionnaires or by interviewing your fellow students with open ended and closed ended questions. An open-ended question is unrestricted. For example:

What are your feelings about high school nurses distributing free condoms?

This answer could be very lengthy and will be very different in each person you ask. There are also closed ended questions which are true-false, agree or disagree, yes-no, or multiple choice. For example:

Do you think the school nurses should be able to distribute condoms to students? Circle Yes or No.

This question gives a straight answer and does not leave room for discussion or other details.

Examples of Questionnaires and Interview Questions for a Speech on School Prayer

Questionnaire Example

1. Sex: circle --  Male  or  Female

2. Educational Level:   _________________________

3. Religious Affiliation:  ________________________

4. Did you attend a public or private high school:  ________

5. Do you believe in prayer in school:    circle --   Yes    or     No

6. What are some reasons prayer should be allowed in school :  __________________________________

7. List some reasons why prayer should not be allowed in schools:  _____________________________

8. Do you attend church services:  circle one

Never Christmas?/Easter Sometimes Often Always

Sample Interview Questions

1. What is the highest level of education that you have completed?

2. What religious affiliation do you belong to?

3. Did you attend a public or private high school?

4. Do you believe that students and faculty should have the right to pray in school? Why? 

If no, would it anger you to see classmates praying at school?

5. How regularly do you attend church?

6. Do you talk with your classmates about your religious beliefs?

7. Are you friends with people of different religious backgrounds?

Informative versus Persuasive

When gathering information, it is important to keep in mind the objective of the speech. If you are writing a persuasive speech, it is important to find out the audience's interest level in the topic, their knowledge, and attitude. In an informative speech you are not trying to change their attitude, but you still should know it.

The interest level and how it relates to each person in the audience. People are very egocentric and they have to hear things that are meaningful to them.

The audience's knowledge is what level they are at and how much information you need to give to them.

And attitude reflects the audience's likes or dislike for the subject. If you are writing a persuasive speech it is critical that you obtain this information before you present your speech.

II. Audience Analysis - Adapting to your audience as you speak

When you are giving your speech you have to adapt to your audience if you can tell they are not listening or paying attention.

Some nonverbal audience cues are:

  • Eye Contact- Is your audience looking at you?

  • Facial Expression- Are they responsive to your message?

  • Restless movement- Are they restless? 

  • Is there a lot of fidgeting, shuffling, and general body movement?

  • Nonverbal responsiveness- DO they respond to your questions? Do they laugh at the right times? Do they nod or shake their heads?

  • Verbal Responsiveness- Do they respond verbally when appropriate?

If you are not getting a positive response from your audience there are things you can do:

  • Try to talk more to the audience

  • Tell a story.

  • Use an example.

  • Remind your listeners of the motivation.

  • Eliminate some boring facts or statistics.

  • Use appropriate humor..

  • Pause for dramatic effect.

  • Ask for feedback or ask questions.

  • Remind your audience of your credibility



III. Audience Analysis - Analyzing your audience after you speak

After you speak there are many ways that you can tell how your audience responded to your speech. There are nonverbal, verbal, survey, and behavioral responses.

Nonverbal Responses examples:

  • Did the audience applaud? Yes or No

  • How did they applaud? Loud or Soft

  • What kind of facial expressions did they have? Smiling or Nodding

Verbal Responses - What did the audience say to you after the speech?

  •  "Good job!" 

  • "That was really interesting?" 

  • "I have a question about . ."

Survey Responses - Conduct a survey and find out what people liked or learned about your speech. This will allow you to gauge your listening results.

Behavioral Responses - If your purpose was to persuade your audience to do something, their behavior after the speech can tell you if you did in fact persuade them. If you were persuading your audience to vote at the next election, you could ask around to see how many people did actually vote.


There are three phases in audience analysis. The first is adapting to your audience before you speak. There are three ways to do this: demographic analysis, attitudinal analysis, and environmental analysis. Demographic analysis involves age, gender, culture, ethnicity, race, religion, and educational level. Attitudinal analysis addresses the audience's attitudes, beliefs, and values. And environmental analysis is the importance of seating arrangements, audience size, and room lighting, etc.

The second phase is adapting to your audience as you speak. By attending the nonverbal cues, you may use a variety of things to bring attention back to your audience.

And the last stage is analyzing your audience after you speak. There are nonverbal, verbal, survey, and behavioral responses.

The last three phases may help you to adapt your message to your audience better.

Remember! People are egocentric, they will only listen if it pertains to them. So, take some time to adapt your message!



1. Steven A. and Susan J. Beebe, Public Speaking An Audience-Centered Approach (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1997) 79.

2. Stephen E. Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1995) 94.

3. David B. Guralnik, Webster's New World Dictionary (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1984) 660.

last updated 2/2/2003