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Ten Things Leaders Need to Know About Audience Analysis

Dec 5, 2007
The right diagnosis is imperative to success in the medical field. Without it, patients suffer and perhaps succumb. Diagnosing the state of health of a patient is a systematic process which helps the physician come to accurate conclusions. Diagnosis is more than information; it is applying that information in a way that brings accuracy to the process.

Sales, education, public speaking, or writing for the web,in each case leaders doing the communicating need it to be prescriptive. It needs to fit a specific audience the way a prescription is given to fit a specific diagnosis.

There needs to be a systemic analysis (diagnosis) of the audience to deliver content which accomplishes the purpose. Audience analysis is an indispensable part of the systematic design of communication.

There are ten things every communicator needs to know about doing an audience analysis.

1. Do it in writing (or typing). Information changes when it is written down or at least the way you process it changes. It becomes more organized in our thinking. When I take time to write down an audience analysis, it slows me down enough to carefully undo some assumptions I may have made which may not be entirely accurate. It helps me see the information from a different perspective or makes it visible that I have oversimplified perspectives on the audience.

2. Do an analysis, even if you think you know your audience well. By doing a careful analysis you gain deeper understanding of people that we know superficially, and yet do not really know because we have not asked the right questions or only asked those questions in one framework. People are complex. We need to ask questions about the people we think we know best to see how they have changed.

3. Include the context in the analysis. The readiness to listen or ability to absorb information may change with the context in which they are exposed to the content. People behave differently in groups than they do in individual settings. People are sometimes distracted by their setting or the people around them. I try to think about both the physical and social context.

4. Break the audience into segments. Write down the different sub-groups that might be in the audience. I like to attach numbers to them. What percent will be of one gender or another, one age group or another, one interest group or another? This does two things, it helps to clarify how general I need to reach everyone or how specific I need to be but moving that specificity from segment to segment.

5. Consider their culture. Not just as it relates to an ethnic group but community or corporate culture as well. A friend told me about being a translator for speakers who came to Romania to speak. He said the hardest thing was to translate for people who came and used baseball metaphors, when almost no one in the audience played or cared about baseball. He said "striking out" as a metaphor carried no significance for a Romanian audience. There are cultures within academia, business, churches, and communities. The time we take to analyze what the characteristics of the cultures represented in our audience, the more effective our content will be communicated.

6.Analyze their expectations. What are their expectations of the delivery? Are they expecting to be entertained? Are they expecting a serious discourse? That may change from audience to audience. Decide what delivery styles would they consider to be appropriate for the content. Offended people do not listen. Are they a crowd that needs a lot of facts, or do they expect to be motivated?

7. Consider their needs. I have gotten letters that start out, To whom it may concern. Those letters leave it up to the recipient to determine if the letter pertains to them or not. Perhaps they are one of the concerned ones, perhaps not. When we communicate, we want everyone to feel concerned. We want them all engaged with our content. When doing an audience analysis, I like to put myself in the place of an audience member and ask myself, how does this pertain to me? Or, what do I expect to get out of this? Perhaps, Why do they need my content? Asking these kinds of questions helps us determine their needs. People do not like being sold, but they like having their needs met. An audience analysis can reveal those needs and perhaps help the communicator show the audience why they need it.

8. Consider their previous knowledge. Nothing bores people quicker than having someone talk above their head or using terms that are outside of their past experience. Sometimes they are not only bored, they become angry because they feel stupid because they do not understand. Analyze their previous knowledge of the subject, and then definitions can be a part of the content so that the audience has access to the information and feels respected.

9. Consider their emotions. Analyze what the audience needs to feel about the content. Analyze what they need to feel about you as the presenter or author to believe the message. Non-verbal communication is often the vehicle that taps into the emotions. A clear understanding of what they may or may not feel because of the presentation style or the context can help us develop content that is affective (emotionally effective).

10.Consider their limitations. How much information can they absorb at one setting. A friend used an oil metaphor with me when I was talking about a speech I was preparing. He said, "If you do not strike oil in 20 minutes, quit boring". This is less likely to happen if you note in your analysis what you think the limitations are on how much new material you can deliver in your context. If you write it down you are more likely more likely to deliver it effectively.

Now I am going to follow my own advice. In my analysis of online audiences, the limitations for reading an article is about 1,000 words. I am at 1023, so, I will stop here and hope that this information will help you deliver communicate your content more effectively.
About the Author
Rick Hubbard studied Organizational Communication at the B.A. level and e-Learning/Instructional System Design at the graduate level. He works in instructional technology at a Florida University and does consulting in communication and instructional design. http://www.ALeadershipRevolution.com
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