13 Using Demographical Information

You’ve probably heard the term “demographics ” used before. Demographic data is the information (often statistical) most often collected to analyze the people, groups, and organizations around us. The U.S. Census Bureau is one of the best examples of a group known for collecting demographic data. Every ten years, census takers gather information about the population of the United States. They typically want to know the composition of each household- how many children/adults each has, its average annual income, its ethnic background, the gender and ages of those in the household, and other similar information. This data is then compiled to provide government and other agencies with an overall view of the individuals, families, and other collective groups that compose the population of the United States. This information might be used to determine funding or to project the needs of the country in future years. As you might imagine, gathering and compiling this tremendous amount of data is mind- boggling. Luckily, the data you’ll gather to prepare for a presentation is on a much smaller scale. According to the research provided by Tyrone Adams and Peter Decargo, the demographic data you’d most likely want to collect from your audience would be:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Ethnic background
  • Group membership
  • Educational level
  • Political affiliation
  • Religious affiliation
  • Socioeconomic level

How might data in these areas assist you in understanding your audience? After all, you won’t use this information to determine funding or to analyze the needs of a city. You will, however, be able to use the information you collect to better understand what your audience is interested in, whether you have included culturally appropriate examples to explain your topic, or if your audience already has a religious or political preference that might make it difficult for them to believe as you do or to take a recommended course of action. Knowing these details about your audience will assist you as you move through each step of the speech process from beginning to end (McQuail 111-14).

Let’s look at a couple of examples that may help you better understand how analyzing your audience can impact your speech preparation and presentation. One of the first tasks you’ll need to accomplish as you prepare for a presentation is to decide on a topic. What will you choose to discuss? If you know that your audience is composed entirely of men, would you consider giving a speech about choosing the best gynecologist? Probably not. Knowing the gender of this audience helps you narrow the topic to one more gender- relevant. Could you give a speech to this same group about breast cancer? Again, you might not pick this topic based on your analysis of your listeners. However, if you presented the topic as an issue that might affect the wives, mothers, and daughters of the men in your audience, that topic becomes relevant.

Look at another example. You research and prepare a well thought-out presentation that focuses on Medicare coverage in the United States. While you may have provided effective statistical information, quoted many respected experts in the field, and used detailed examples to help explain the topic, how much interest will you generate with this topic if you give the speech to a group of college students? In this case, the age of the audience is the critical factor. Young listeners in their twenties are probably not yet affected by this issue and therefore are disinterested in your speech before you even begin.

What if this same topic is presented to a support group that caters to adults dealing with aging parents? In this case, the listeners may, again, be young and typically disinterested in the topic personally, but it is the group membership-a support group dealing with aging parents-that makes the topic relevant to these listeners. These examples should help you better understand how knowing just a few small demographic details about your audience can be the difference between addressing an interested and connected audience and presenting to a group of listeners who can’t wait for the speech to end.

As you can now see, collecting this audience data as you prepare for a presentation can influence your preparation and the potential outcome of your speech. Knowing as much as you possibly can about your audience gives you an edge. In essence, it gives you the inside track into the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of your audience so that you can draw on that information as you prepare and deliver your presentation. Striving to be audience- centered is one of our primary goals as speakers. If you consider your audience in each step of your preparation and presentation, you will find that you are a more effective speaker because you will be able to connect with the individuals in that audience in such a way that they can easily relate to your information-and to you.


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