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3.2 What are your audiences?

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Figure 1

All audiences are made up of a mix of ages, genders and cultures. Below are all the aspects you need to be aware of when you make a public address.

Use of language

Depending on who you are talking to, you will have to adjust the language and level of register you are using (a register is a variety of language used for a particular purpose or social setting). It is unlikely that an audience made of children will understand many metaphors, similes or other figures of complex speech. You may also find that an audience made up of non-native English speakers might struggle with the comprehension of idiomatic expressions or humour. So whatever figures of speech, register or style you decide to use, you need to be sure that a good proportion of the audience understands them.


The age of an audience dictates the developmental pitch of a talk. Different age groups will have different levels of understanding, different abilities to process ideas and different concentration spans. However, there are other, more subtle differences to be taken into account in preparing a talk: experiences members of the audience have had, events they have lived through and their cultural reference points.


Gender differences vary widely from country to country, among political and religious communities and within different age groups. At the most basic level, no talk should make assumptions about life experiences, biases or preferences on the basis of gender.


A speaker needs to take into account possible cultural norms of an audience. What is the respectful and appropriate approach to a particular country or region’s culture? If a speaker tends to be very physically demonstrative for example, will an audience sit up and take notice or will they just be embarrassed?


Closely linked to culture, religion might dictate the very subjects a speaker may or may not speak about if they wish to avoid causing offence. Some kinds of language may be unacceptable, some words or images forbidden. It’s very important to know these things before giving a talk.


A talk on the environment addressed to a group of science graduates will be different from one given to the interested public, or to oil executives or politicians. Similarly, a political leaning in an audience will affect the way content is delivered. A talk needs to keep people interested even if they don’t agree with the message.


This may be the very factor that brings an audience together, in which case there’s less need to worry about the ‘who are they?’ question. In every case, however, some knowledge of an audience’s work background can affect the way a talk is delivered.