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Tailoring Your Message


         When you tailor a message for an audience, you are targeting your message to certain areas of the audience to enhance the transference and acceptance of your message. It is important to remember there is not just one way to know something and not just one thing to know.

Knowing + Tailoring = Identifying

         You can tailor your message, arguments, and evidence to your audience by knowing about the audiences’ demographical, situational, and underlying psychological aspects. You gain this information by doing research to learn as much information on your audience as possible—this is called audience analysis. The more you know, the stronger you are as a speaker.

The Damp Sponge Theory for your Audience 

          Let’s think of spilled water for a moment. Which absorbs water more quickly: a damp sponge or a dry sponge? The answer is a damp sponge. A damp sponge contains thousands of water molecules wanting to combine with other like items (water molecules). So, as we cleanup the spilled water, it is best to use a damp sponge, so it can absorb and attract water more quickly. A dry sponge contains no water molecules and without any molecules present, it must start from scratch to absorb the spill.


          Now let’s put the process into a speaking scenario. Your audience is the sponge and your message the water. Your audience will be more receptive and willing to learn if you “dampen” their thinking with organizational elements, speech techniques, and supporting information. When speaking, seek to relate to your audience by drawing on the demographic commonalities, situational aspects, and psychological reasonings your audience has; these are the molecules. The audience analysis you completed earlier is the basis for the new water molecules of learning.

Demographic Analysis

Demographics are a set of basic identifying information about a person or group.

          Demographics refers to a set basic identifying information about a person or in the case of a group of people, their commonalities. The underlying question of demographic analysis is “Who are they?” Some factors to analyze include:

  • Age: how old a person is

  • Education: how much schooling a person has completed

  • Sex: the biological status reflected in their anatomy

  • Gender: society's psychological perception of a person as masculine or feminine 

  • Cultural heritage: the learned system of knowledge and beliefs a person has

  • Religion: a belief in a higher power

  • Group membership (including fraternal/sororal): a persons belonging to an organization of shared ideals

  • Race: a group of people with similar history, nationality, or geographic location; genetic physical attributes

  • Sexual orientation: a person's sexual identity relating to which gender they are attracted to

  • Ethnicity: a person's belonging to a social group that has similar cultural traditions

  • Socioeconomic factors: a person's perceived importance with respect to income and occupation


          Demographic analysis is not stereotyping. A stereotype is an oversimplified generalization toward a grouping of people; stereotyping assigns qualities based on narrow information. Stereotypes may be held by many people, but this does not make them true. When analyzing your audience, be careful not to stereotype. Remember, there is not only one way to know something or one thing to know. Why is demographic analysis important? Having demographic information provides a “picture” (a snapshot) of your audience. It helps better target your audience and to work to understand and address their needs. Demographic analysis helps you create examples pertinent to a group. It allows you to narrow the focus of the main points to cover a smaller amount more deeply.

Situational Analysis

          Situational analysis regarding a presentation provides information of the actual space or physical environment you may be speaking in to help you as a speaker. By doing research on where the speech will take place, you are giving yourself valuable information that can help you plan and prepare better. If you have done this type of analysis, there should be very few “new” things to come up and surprise you about the space. Some points to consider are:

  • Where will the presentation take place?

  • What is the size of your audience?

    • Are you speaking to a large group or just a few?

    • If a large group will there be a microphone? What types – a lavalier or one attached to a lectern?

  • What is the purpose for the speech?

    • Is this a formal meeting or an informal gathering?

  • Is there technology available?

    • If so, what equipment is there?

  • What is the time of day for your presentation?

  • How are the chairs arranged?

    • Are there chairs? Or is your audience expected to stand?

    • Is your audience at tables or in a lecture-style setting?

    • Are they in a circle or rows?

  • What is the temperature of the room?

    • Is it hot? This could make you and your audience tired—sluggish.

    • Is it cold? This could make your audience lose focus easily.

  • Is there transportation to your venue?

    • Do buses, light rail, ride share services have access to the area?

    • Is parking available? Is there a cost associated with it?


          All of these factors will give you insight into the speaking environment to better prepare. For instance, time of day—morning, midday, evening? All of those times may affect your audience. Knowing that information may help you as you prepare examples and visual aids so you can be more successful with your audience.

Psychological Analysis

          Understanding the psychological aspects of your audience will impact your presentation. What are their motives for being in the audience? Some items to consider are:

  • What are their self-interests in being there?

  • Why are they there?

    • Are they there because they want to be?

  • Are they forced to be in attendance?

    • If so, who is forcing them?

      • Is it for an academic grade?

      • For an employer?

      • For a family member?

    • Forced audience members won’t listen to the message as well as someone who is there by their own volition.

  • What are their needs?

    • If we understand their needs, then we can target specific information and/or solutions important to a particular audience.

  • What are their preconceived attitudes/ideas?

    • Are they positive, negative, or neutral toward the message, speaker, or occasion?

    • These factors are especially important in persuasion.

      • Do they agree with you? (Positive)

      • Do they disagree with you? (Negative)

      • Do they not have an opinion about the topic at all? (Neutral)

  • What do they know?

    • If they already know information on your topic, you may not have to go as in depth on the explanation or background. You can reinforce their current views.

  • What do they not know?

    • If you can find out what they don’t know, you can provide information to expand their knowledge base in order to impact their decisions and choices.

          There are different types of audiences and understanding their psychology will help you deliver an effective speech. If your audience holds the same beliefs as you, then what is there for you to inform or persuade? You are just reinforcing those beliefs, behaviors, and values. If your audience does not hold the same beliefs as you, you will need to carefully craft your arguments and supporting points. It is important to recognize some people will never agree with you, no matter what you may say. In these cases, it may be necessary to “agree to disagree.” If your audience seems indifferent or uninformed, they may have not yet decided on your topic. This is an ideal audience; they can be a good target for persuasion. Analyzing the psychological features of your audience will allow you to inform and persuade much more easily.

Gaining Audience Information

          All of these different types of analysis may seem overwhelming if you do not have a strategy for getting the information needed to conduct this analysis, but there are several ways you can understand your audience before you even meet them.


          If possible, ask the host organization or the person who contacted you about the speech to get information about the group attending the presentation. Also, ask the host if you might be able to send a survey to the audience either electronically or printed. The survey should seek information on demographics, situation, and the views of the audience. Another method is to interview others such as past participants, current participants, and the staff at the event. You can also check local resources such as newspapers or magazines for information about the event or group. It is also recommended you visit the event facility to experience the culture of the audience and where you will be presenting.


          Another method is to look at the audience’s social media. Don’t think of this as “creeping,” but as sleuthing and information-seeking opportunities. See if they have a public Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, or Instagram. What do you see? What is your audience interested in? What can you learn about them? What commonalities do your audience members share? How are you able to use this information to prepare your speech to have the maximum outcome and success for both you and your audience?

Review Questions

1) What items are considered demographics? How do they influence a speech?

2) Where can you go/what can you do to learn about your audience? 

3) How does the damp sponge theory apply to an audience?

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