2 Engaging Your Audience

Josh Miller, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the benefits of establishing a bilateral relationship with your audience.
  • Identify the differences between the literal, target, and constructed audiences.
  • Explore strategies effectively communicate to different audiences.

On June 13, 2012, the Michigan House of Representatives held a debate over a proposed bill that would limit access to abortion throughout the state. During that debate, Representative Lisa Brown rose to speak against the piece of legislation. She concluded her speech by exclaiming, “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina but no means no.”[i] This statement might be shocking for some of you, and it certainly shocked members of the Michigan House of Representatives. After making this statement, Lisa Brown was notified that her closing remarks had violated the expectations for civility and decorum for debate on the House floor; she would no longer be allowed to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives for the remainder of that congressional session. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Lisa Brown’s statement, you can learn much about the importance of knowing what audience members might expect from speakers and the potential repercussions for speakers who violate those expectations.

People who hear speeches react to them based on their own beliefs and previous experiences. Violations of audience expectations might cause audience members to view the speaker with skepticism or even with open hostility. As a result, learning about your audience and thinking about what they might expect from you is an important element of public speaking. For instance, when you graduate, someone will deliver a commencement speech to your graduating class, and it would likely violate your expectations if that speaker called the graduating class lazy and uneducated. After all, you will put in a lot of effort to reach that day. Anyone who disregarded all of the work you put into reaching your graduation day would likely anger, sadden, or offend you. They would certainly violate the expectations for what you thought you would hear the commencement speaker say.  This example highlights that the effectiveness of speakers depends on their understanding of the audience members.

Speeches do not happen in vacuums. Just because you want to say something does not mean that it will be appropriate or effective in a speech. Speakers give speeches to persuade, inform, or entertain others. Those others, the audience, have the power to accept, reject, and respond to your speech in the manner that they deem fit. Moreover, because each time you give a speech your audience will be different, you always need to tailor your speech to each different audience. To craft an effective message, never forget about your audience.

This chapter will equip you with the tools necessary to craft speeches that take the importance of the audience into account. First, this chapter explores necessary ethical considerations and discusses why speakers should work to foster cooperative relationships with their audience members. Then, you will learn about the concept of the target audience and that most speeches focus on attempting to convince a specific part of the total number of people in the audience. This chapter also discusses ways in which you could analyze your audience to discover information that might help you craft a more effective speech. Finally, you will learn about how your speech can craft a specific role for your audience that might make your audience more likely to accept the main point of your speech.

Ethical Considerations

Valerie Everett – Questions? – CC BY-SA 2.0.

When you deliver a speech, your audience members should have the power to decide whether or not they want to believe what you are saying. You can be certain that what you are saying is correct. However, your job as a speaker is to work to convince your audience that you are correct, not trick or force them into doing what you want them to do. In 1972, Wayne Brockriede articulated a theory about what constitutes an ethical argument, and his theory offers us an idea about how we should understand what counts as an ethical relationship between speakers and audience members. Brockriede stated that there are three ways to convince your audience to agree with you. You could force them to agree, you could trick them into agreement, or you could foster a bilateral and cooperative relationship with them in which they choose to agree with you.[i] Those who seek agreement by force might threaten, attack, or demean their audience and those who disagree with them. According to Brockriede, those who attempt to persuade through the use of force create a unilateral relationship with their audience wherein the speaker views themselves as more important and superior than their audience. Speakers who use force are only concerned with getting what they want. Those who use tricks to get their audience to agree with them also seek a unilateral relationship with their audience. These speakers attempt to gain agreement through charm, lying, or deceit. For example, a trickster might take evidence out of context or misuse evidence to make an argument seem stronger than it actually is. Tricksters might use logical fallacies to distract their audience members from the actual substantive issues in a debate.

A unilateral relationship works in one direction. The speaker has power over their audience and does not have a cooperative relationship with the audience.

Both of these ways of attempting to persuade your audience are unethical and often ineffective. They are unethical because they try to limit the audience’s ability to make an informed choice. Also, if you earn the reputation of someone who uses tricks or forces others, potential audience members may become skeptical of you and avoid interactions. If you heard about a store that lies to customers about the condition of their products and often yells at or dismisses costumers for asking questions about their products, I imagine that you would not want to shop at that store any time soon. Furthermore, if you enjoyed a presentation given by a speaker but later found out the facts were made up, you probably be more hesitant to accept the claims of that speaker in the future. As an ethical speaker, you should avoid tactics that attempt to trick or force your audience to agree with you.

Ethical speakers seek cooperative and bilateral relationships with their audience—what Brockriede called a loving relationship. People who want bilateral relationships with their audience members view themselves as equal to their audience and recognize the audience should have the power to make informed choices. In this form of cooperative relationship, you, as a speaker, concern yourself with what is good for your audience, not merely your own best interests. You do not attempt to force or trick your audience into agreement. Instead, you work to earn agreement from your audience by showing them that you care about what is best for them and let them ultimately make an informed decision. As such, you should view your role as a speaker as one that attempts to create and sustain a cooperative relationship with your audience members.[ii] In these relationships, both parties work to foster trust with each other, and that trust allows both parties to listen to and learn from each other.

A bilateral relationship connects the speaker with the audience. The speaker works to enable the audience to make an informed choice about what is best for them.

Those who communicate based on Brockriede’s principle of cooperation also understand that they should be willing to change their own minds. Just as you, as the speaker, are attempting to persuade your audience on a particular matter, you should also be willing to change your mind and be persuaded by others.[iii] Only in these moments, when we are willing to change our mind and work to change the minds of others, can genuine personal growth occur. Moreover, fostering a bilateral relationship can lead to a long-term relationship where you might be more likely to alter another person’s perceptive on an issue long after the first time you attempted to persuade them of something. When we approach public speaking through an ethical and cooperative relationship between speakers and audiences, there is a possibility of personal and social growth.

To ensure that you are establishing an ethical relationship with your audience, remember this: Let your research determine your argument. Do not let your argument determine your research. This strategy is a part of being willing to change your mind. If you are certain about something but find study after study shows the opposite is true, do not ignore those studies. Instead, change your mind and modify the argument of your speech. Tell your audience that studies exist that might disagree with what you believe, or explain to your audience why those studies do not necessarily disprove your point of view. Similarly, do not ignore alternative viewpoints. If you are giving a speech on a controversial topic, acknowledge the differences in opinion exist and try to find common ground. If you ignore and dismiss other viewpoints, audience members who hold those points of view might think that you are ignoring them and, in turn, ignore you.

With these ethical considerations in mind, let’s turn our attention to how we might define and understand those who comprise your audience.

The Literal and Target Audiences

Thinkmedialabs – Audience – CC BY-NC 2.0.

We might understand your empirical audience (or those who you actually speak to) with two terms: the literal audience and the target audience. The literal audience comprises of anyone who hears the speaker’s message. If you are speaking to your class, then your literal audience is your classmates and your teacher. If you upload your speech to YouTube, then your audience would be anyone who views your upload. For Lisa Brown’s speech, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, her literal audience included those who heard her speech on the House floor as well as those who later saw her speech on the news or on YouTube. The literal audience is simply those who hear the speech or message.

The literal audience members are anyone who hears a message.

The target audience is a subsection of your literal audience and constitutes the people for whom you tailored your message. The target audience has two additional characteristics. First, members of the target audience are those capable of being impacted or persuaded by the speaker’s message. Second, members of the target audience are capable of creating the change that the speaker seeks. In certain speaking situations, some people may not be open to persuasion on particular issues. Similarly, some people in your audience may be incapable of acting or address a problem you identify. Imagine for a moment that you would like to give a speech that attempts to persuade your class that they should donate blood to the Red Cross. Someone in your class might be so afraid of needles that no matter how compelling your speech is they will never give blood. If this is the case, then that person in your class is not persuadable and would not be a part of your target audience. Additionally, you might have a few classmates who are not allowed to give blood—maybe they recently got a tattoo or have been traveling outside of the United States. Even if you convince these people that they should give blood, they simply cannot. As such, they are not a part of your target audience.

The target audience comprises anyone (1) capable of being persuaded and (2) capable of creating the change the speaker wants.

When you give a speech, you might not be able to persuade everyone to be involved in your solution. People might be unpersuadable or unable to act. When this occurs (and it often does), you want to tailor your message and focus your efforts on convincing those who actually can change their minds and can do the change that you seek: the target audience.

This definition of the target audience is based on Lloyd F. Bitzer’s definition of the rhetorical audience. For more reading see: Lloyd F. Bitzer, “The Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 1 (1968): 1–14.

Audience Analysis

In order to determine who comprises your target audience, you might want to engage in a process called audience analysis. Audience analysis is a process in which you examine who your audience members are and how to best connect your beliefs with them. Based on a definition of rhetoric provided by Donald C. Bryant, we might think of public speaking as the act of “adjusting ideas to people and of people to ideas.”[i] The first part of Bryant’s definition expresses a need to alter our communication based on the audience; but, at the same time, we cannot forget or lose what we wanted our audience to learn or believe as the result of the speech. We do not want to just tell the audience what they want to hear. We also do not want to just state what we believe without helping our audience understand what we believe and why we believe it. As such, we want to analyze our audience to learn about them and what they believe. Once we conduct such an analysis, we can figure out how we might connect with our audience and adjust our speech accordingly.

It is important to remember that your audience analysis will not give you all the answers that you need to craft your speech. Audience analysis provides you with a starting point from which you can infer what appeals that you might want to make in your speech and how to make those appeals. In other words, audience analysis provides you with specific data about your audience, but it is still up to you to determine what you should do with that data. For example, if through our audience analysis we learn that the majority of our audience members are teachers, we can infer that they likely believe in the value of education and do not need to be persuaded of that value. However, if our audience is comprised of many different occupations that are not associated with teaching or education, we might infer that we want to include a few reasons why those people should value education.

Audience analysis is a way of discovering information about your literal audience so you can make more informed decisions about what to include in your speech.

When conducting your audience analysis, some variables to consider include the size and location of your audience, your audience’s demographics, and whether or not your audience is listening to your speech by choice.

Size and Location

The size of your audience and location of your speech are important variables to consider as you prepare your speech. With a larger audience, you need to adjust your volume to ensure that everyone can hear your message. Also, when your audience is larger, it might be more challenging for you to ensure that you are connecting with everyone. For example, eye contact is significantly more difficult in a large lecture room than in a small classroom of 20-25 people. In this sense, the audience size may not change the appeals that you plan to make, but your delivery (regarding eye contact and distance from your audience) might need to change; knowing to prepare for different physical movement can be a benefit of audience analysis.[ii]


Understanding some general characterizes of your literal audience may be helpful in crafting an effective speech. These characteristics are your audience’s demographics. Demographic characteristics include race, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual ordination, ability, age, level of education, religious beliefs, socio-economic status, and occupation. Based on demographic information, you might be able to infer similarities between the members of your audience. For example, if you are speaking to your classmates, you can infer that your audience members have the same level of education and might share similar experiences based on being students in school at the same time and place.

Understanding your audience’s demographics can help you make generalizations about your audience’s beliefs, values, and knowledge. Let us suppose that you are preparing a speech about college affirmative action policies. In the course of your research to prepare your speech, you learn that a 2013 Gallup Poll conducted between June 13 and July 5 found that among white adults 67% want college admissions to be based solely on merit and only 22% of white adults want colleges to consider race. Conversely, the same poll found that 44% of black Americans want college admissions to be based solely on merit and 48% of black Americans want race to factor into admission decisions.[iii] This demographic information may help you make an educated guess about what your classmates think about the issue of affirmative action.

You may, at some point in time, do research on another demographic that might influence an audience’s potential receptions of a speech—political party affiliation. A 2015 Gallup Poll found that 35% of Republicans have either a very or mostly favorable view of Planned Parenthood. Conversely, 82% of Democrats reported very or mostly favorable views of the organization. You could also examine differences in support for Planned Parenthood based on sex. The same 2015 report, for example, found that 55% of men hold very or mostly favorable views of Planned Parenthood and 61% of women have the same view.[iv] Polling data can help us make generalizations based on demographic information. Knowing the demographics of your audience would then enable you to research what expectations members of those demographics are likely to hold.

However, only focusing on demographics might lead to problematic stereotyping. A generalization about what people believe may not hold true for the specific people who comprise your audience. As you saw with the Gallup Poll statistics above, even though it is generally true the Democrats are more likely to support Planned Parenthood, 18% of Democrats do not have very or mostly favorable views towards the organization. So, if you discovered that your audience is comprised of 20 Democrats, it is likely that around four of them might not support the organization, statistically speaking. Additionally, demographic information is always partial. A generalization about political party, for example, may not account for a geographic region, age, ethnicity, or educational background. Beginning your speech with the assumption that the whole audience supported Planned Parenthood would be a faulty starting point. So, demographic information might give us a general idea of what we can expect from an audience, but that information cannot give us the whole story of what the audience thinks about themselves or your topic.

Captive versus Voluntary Audiences

One variable that you may encounter when speaking is the variable of whether or not the audience chooses to listen to your speech. A voluntary audience is a group of people who choose to listen to your speech. If you ever give a speech at a wedding, it is likely that the audience wants to be there to celebrate. Likewise, when a politician holds a rally, most of the people who show up want to hear the politician speak. Conversely, a captive audience is a group of people who did not choose to attend the speech. In high school, you might have attended an assembly where you had to listen to someone, maybe the principal, speak about an issue. Despite any potential reluctance, you had to be in the audience. Knowing whether or not an audience is voluntary or captive may factor into how you craft your speech. If someone wants to be there, you may have to make fewer appeals about the importance of your speech (which might help you convince your audience to pay attention to the speech). If someone chooses to see your speech, they are inclined to pay attention. However, if your audience members did not want to attend your speech, you should spend more time in your speech telling your audience why they should pay attention and what they will get out of listening to your speech. In order to engage a captive audience, you may want to include a few more captivating stories or shocking statistics to grab your audience’s attention. According to one scholar of communication, David Zarefsky, “when you don’t know the status of the audience, it is best to assume that listeners are captive and that you need to motivate them.”[v]

Surveying your Audience

To learn more about your literal and target audiences, you may be able to utilize the power of surveys. Businesses often spend considerable time and energy learning about potential consumers. They survey people to find out how many people have heard about their products. They hold focus groups to determine what kinds of products consumers want. Before releasing a commercial, a business might ask a group of people what they think about the message and then alter the message accordingly. Businesses expend this energy and money to know more about their audience and to adopt (and profit from) what their audience wants. A politician might do the same and survey what people believe about a particular issue (immigration, same-sex marriage, or college tuition). Based on the results of these surveys, politicians may decide to focus their speeches and campaigns on the issues that elicited support or excitement from the public. You too could follow the lead of businesses and politicians and survey potential audiences.

Of course, you might not have enough time to survey all the members of your audience before you give a speech. Yet, when you are able to survey your potential audience members, their responses may help you determine which potential audience members might be a part of your target audience. Likewise, surveying may help you determine which appeals you should make in your speech. Following these tips will help you craft a more effective survey:

  1. Go beyond demographic questions, and ask questions about your thesis. As the main point of your speech, the thesis is a statement that you want your audience to agree is true after you complete your speech. Because the thesis is the main thrust of your speech, if you have the opportunity to survey an audience, you should make sure you find out what they think about that thesis. If your thesis is “To persuade my classmates that college student debt should be forgiven,” you might want to ask a question about how familiar your audience is with the concept of student debt. You might also want to ask questions to determine whether or not your audience supports that statement; and, perhaps more importantly, you should attempt to determine why they agree or disagree with that thesis statement.
  2. Ask questions that help you determine the survey takers level of commitment to their position. For example, instead of asking “college loan rates should be lowered—agree or disagree,” ask “college loan rates should be lowered—strongly agree, slightly agree, neutral, slightly disagree, or strongly disagree.” Known as Likert-type questions, these types of questions give you more data about the specific feelings of your survey takers.
  3. Remember to include all possible answers in the answer choices available to your survey takers (or leave a blank where they can fill in their response). For example, if you wanted to know what people cared most about during an election season and asked “what is the most important thing for you this election season? Foreign Policy or Immigration?” you would have left out a lot of potential topics that people find to be the most important. Someone may think that the economy is the most important issue, for instance. Having too few chooses for your survey takers will skew your data because your survey takers’ answers cannot reflect what they actually believe.
  4. Ask a variety of questions. In addition to figuring out your audience’s level of commitment, you should ask a variety of questions to determine why your audience holds the positions that they do. For example, you could ask a question that has a continuum of answers—strongly agree to strongly disagree. Then, you could ask an open-ended question that asks your survey takers why they strongly agree, slightly agree, remain neutral, slightly disagree, or strongly disagree. Open-ended questions that allow your audience to write a sentence or two often reveal solid information about your audience’s thought process.
  5. Do not ask leading questions. For example, a question that asked “how do you feel about the sin of living with someone you are not married to?” implies to survey takers that they should disapprove of unmarried cohabitation. When you ask leading questions, survey takers may feel that they cannot answer the question honestly or may be inclined to respond more negatively (or positively) than they would otherwise. As such, asking leading questions can corrupt your survey results.
  6. Avoid vague questions. If survey takers are unsure of what a question is asking of them, then the survey might not accurately reflect the survey takers beliefs on particular questions, making the survey results less usable. Using double negatives can confuse survey takers, so avoid them. An example of a confusing double negative question would be: “Don’t you agree that the government should not reduce funding for the military? Yes or no?”
  7. Avoid double-barreled questions. Double-barreled questions are questions that ask about multiple different topics but only give the survey taker one way to respond to the question. For instance, a survey that asked “Are you opposed to same-sex marriage and increased immigration? Yes or No?” would be a double-barreled question. The problem with double-barreled questions is that they do not leave room for nuance. What if someone is opposed to same-sex marriage but supports increased immigration? That person may answer the question by marking “no,” but the surveyor would not know if the person opposed same-sex marriage, increased immigration, or both. As such, double-barreled questions make it more difficult for surveyors to learn from and use the results of their surveys.

Following these tips will help you craft a useful survey that can enable you to understand your audience better before you speak. However, you are unlikely to be able to poll your audience before every speech you deliver. Understanding the principle of the constructed audience can help you craft a message that can engage your audience even when you have limited information about your audience members.

Your Rhetorically Constructed Audience

Kim Davies – US Constitution – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Your audience members are not static and unchangeable beings. Although knowing the demographics and beliefs of your audience may be helpful, you can also use your speech to offer your audience members a way of viewing themselves. The language you use in your speech can give your audience an understanding of what role they should play in a given situation.

The rhetorically constructed audience is the roles and identities that the speaker invited the audience to adopt during a speech.

In 1970, Edwin Black, published an influential essay that argued speeches imply their audiences.[1] That is, there are clues in speeches that direct the audience to see themselves in a particular way. If you have listened to a few presidential speeches, you likely have heard someone tell you what role you should adopt. Presidents often start speeches by stating, “my fellow Americans.” The act of saying this tells you to view yourself as an American during this speech. In times of crisis, a speaker might tell you to view yourself as someone who is eager to help or as someone who is saddened by a tragedy. President Obama’s speech in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School created a role for his audience members—concerned parents of America’s children. He stated,

This job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children. This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm?[2]

In this speech, Obama used inclusive language and described the collective “we” as having the duty to act as parents. His statement that “we’re all parents” created a role for his audience members to fulfill. In doing so, he positioned his audience as parents who were concerned about the nation’s children. Obama’s effort to imply his audience members should view themselves as concerned parents helps him alter how his audience might react to his speech. Of course, not everyone will accept the roles in which speakers place their audience members. After all, if you are not a parent, it might be more difficult for you to imagine your role as being of a parent in this speech. Nonetheless, the constructed audience can be powerful in shaping the audience’s relationship to a speech.

As you plan your speech, you should think about how you can create a role for your audience to fulfill. Understanding the literal and target audience for your speech can help you determine the possibilities for a constructed audience.[iii] Every individual has the capacity to fulfill a variety of different roles and identities. You, for example, may view yourself as a concerned parent, a sibling, an American, a sushi lover, an avid sports fan, an employee, a boss, a caregiver, a college student, or someone who is concerned about others. Sometimes you occupy these types of roles when you are asked to do so. For instance, whenever my family would have guests over, my mom would make the family clean and say “we want to make sure our guests think we have a clean house.” By saying this, my mom created a role for my family. That role involved being concerned about what others thought about the state of our house and valuing cleanliness to ensure our guests thought well of our family. Similarly, as a speaker, you may direct your audience members to how they should view themselves, and this direction can help you navigate the problem of not knowing precisely who comprises your audience.

Creating a role for your audience to fill allows you to put your audience in a mindset where they might be more likely to accept your argument. In the previously mentioned blood donation speech, stating “as people who are concerned about the health or others, it is our duty to donate blood” might signal to your audience to adopt the role of a concerned citizen—someone who works for the best interests of others. Someone who views their role as being a concerned citizen is more likely to donate blood than someone who thinks their role is to be afraid of medical advances or to be worried about only their own health. The subtle direction to your audience to assume a role or identity can change the way that they understand and interact with your speech.


One of the ways to help you create a role for your audience and to form a productive relationship with them would be to identify and build upon potential similarities between you and your audience. Both Kenneth Burke and Aristotle believed that being able to show your audience that you are similar to them remained necessary for any speaker to be successful and effective. Kenneth Burke explained, “You persuade [people] only insofar as you can talk [their] language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with [theirs].”[iv] People remain more likely to accept an argument or proposition from someone that they view as similar to themselves. As a speaker, you must find a way to connect with your audience members and, ideally, show yourself as being one of them. One way to do so is by drawing on demographic similarities. For example, sometime in your future, you might have to give a presentation to your boss and coworkers about the best direction for your company. In this speech, you might be able to connect with your audience by referencing your common occupation or common desire to do what is best for the company. At some point, you may decide to write a letter to your local newspaper about an issue facing your city. In that letter, you would be well served to reference your experience with your local city to show that you share common experiences with your audience. If you are an American giving a speech in front of fellow Americans, you can reference that fact to create identification. Using demographic information to help you create a bond between you and your audience will help you connect with your audience and make them more likely to accept the argument of your speech.

Identification is a speaker’s efforts to show an audience the similarities shared between the speaker and the audience.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” highlights a clear attempt to identify with an audience. King wrote this letter in response to a letter written in 1963 by white members of the clergy. In the white clergy members’ letter, they critiqued the non-violent civil disobedience promoted by King and also charged King with being an outsider. After all, King was not from Birmingham. As a result, King had to respond to the charge that he was an outsider, and he did so by using his American identity to identify with his audience. In his letter, King wrote the following:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.[v]

King responded to the need for his to justify himself as being a member of the community by redefining his relationship with the clergy members, arguing that everyone is connected. Even though others might have called King an “outside agitator,” he responded to those charges based on the fact that both King and his accusers lived in the United States and, thus, shared a common value and heritage—being American. Based on the connection that King and his audience were American, King identified with his audience by reminding them of their shared identity. Telling the audience to view their role as someone “who lives inside the United States” encourages them to see their connection with King, unlike if the audience would have seen their role as a resident of Birmingham. Thus, King’s letter shows how you can use a shared demographic to foster identification and construct a role for your audience so that your audience may be more likely to agree with the main point of your speech.

One way to think about how you may identify with your audience is to think about scope. In the context of public speaking and audience, scope refers to how wide or narrow your point of view is when considering your relationship with another. If you are speaking to your classmates, you can use a narrow scope and frame your relationship with them as being both members of the same class. Your speech could include a moment where you connect with your audience by saying “as members of this class, we know about the importance of higher education.” However, that will not be the case in every speech that you give throughout your lifetime. Imagine that someday you decide to give a speech in front of city council about whether or not there should be more funding for road maintenance. In that speech, you obviously could not use the phrase “as members of this class.” Instead, you can widen the scope of the relationship between yourself and your audience to include people who live in your city by saying “as members of this great city, we know the about of people that rely on pot-hole free roads to get to and from their jobs.” In other speeches, you might have to go even further to include people who live in the same state. So, in Michigan, you could say to an audience “as Michiganders concerned about the future of our great state, we need to revive the auto industry.” You might even widen the scope of your speech to include all people living in the United States (“my fellow Americans”) or the world (“As members of the human race” or “as stewards of our magnificent world”). As you can tell from these examples, thinking about widening or narrowing the scope of the relationship that you establish with your audience can enhance the options that you have in your speech. You could select to establish a narrow relationship or a broad relationship. Whichever you choose, remember that forming a relationship with your audience is often necessary to be able to identify with and ultimately persuade those audience members.

Scope refers to how wide or narrow your point of view is when considering your relationship with another.


Shared Values

Along with determining what demographic characteristics you might share with your audience, you might also brainstorm what values that you have in common with your audience. A person’s values are judgments about whether or not an object or idea is good or bad. For example, if you believe that love is a good thing, then you uphold love as a positive value. Drawing from shared values might allow you to create a role for your audience that would make them more likely to accept the premise of your speech. For example, if you wanted to give a speech about safety and the risk of sexual assault on college campuses, you could appeal to several different commonly held values. You and your audience might both be concerned with promoting safety on your college campus. As such, you could appeal to your audience by articulating “as college students who want to be more concerned about our studies than our safety” to establish a relationship with your audience that focuses on your shared concern for safety. In addition, you could craft an appeal that focuses on a shared value of freedom of mobility and autonomy. That appeal might sound something like the following: “the chance to be individuals with an enhanced freedom to be who we want to be is central to the college experience. We should all be concerned about issues such as sexual assault on campus that threaten people’s ability to express themselves how they want.” Both of these appeals work to establish a connection with your audience through references to shared values. In crafting an appeal based off of a shared value, you create that connection with your audience. You also create a role for your audience: to be people who cherish that shared value. Other shared values may include security, honesty, health, the common good, justice, liberty, freedom, compassion, intelligence, hard work, determination, cooperation, peace, or stability. This list is not exhaustive, but the list does show you that there are many ways in which you can craft an appeal based on a shared value.

Robert F. Kennedy’s speech after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. provides an excellent example of how speakers can create a constructed audience based on references to a shared value. After King’s assassination, there was a significant threat of division and violence in the United States. To respond to the threat of violence, Kennedy positioned his audience as caring about peace. Before mentioning the news of King’s death, Kennedy framed the news that he was about to deliver as being “sad news for all of our fellow citizens and people who love peace all over the world.”[vi] Framing the news as being sad for people who loved peace placed the audience in a position wherein their reaction to King’s death should be based on their love for peace. In addition, Kennedy included not only black individuals as being individuals who would hurt because of King’s death. Instead, “all of our fellow citizens” who love peace and those around the world that love peace would find the news of King’s death sad and hurt as well. Using inclusive language, such as “all of our citizens,” worked to unite the many different factions that could respond to King’s death. All peace loving people would share in reacting to the sad news of King’s murder. By forecasting that all people felt grief for King’s death, Kennedy implied that the remedy would require all people to connect with each other. Thus, the inevitable emotional reaction to the news of King’s death would be framed through the lens of a shared desire for peace. Kennedy’s effort to place his audience in that particular position then worked to inoculate this audience against responding violently because the hurt they felt was rooted in their desire for peace. Acting violently or creating further fraction would violate their own desires for peace.  Just as Kennedy did in his speech after King’s assassination, you too can reference a shared value to imply that your audience should act in a particular way and assume a particular identity.


In this chapter, you learned about the importance of keeping your audience in mind as you construct your speech. You learned about what it means to maintain an ethical, bilateral relationship with your audience where you work to earn the support and trust of your audience. Attempting to force or trick your audience into believing you is both unethical and ineffective. This chapter also surveyed considerations for analyzing your audience. Some factors to consider when you craft your speech include the size and location of your audience, your audience’s demographics, and their level of willingness to listen to your speech. In addition, you learned about the constructed audience. Whenever you give a speech, you can create a role for your audience members to fulfill. By doing so, you invite your audience members to see themselves in a particular way that may make them more inclined to follow the recommendations of your speech. Remember that thinking about your audience as you plan your speech, write your speech, and finally deliver your speech is of critical importance.


[i] Wayne Brockriede, “Arguers as Lovers,” Philosophy & Rhetoric 5 (1972): 1–11.

[ii] William Keith and Christian O. Lundberg, Public Speaking: Choices and Responsibility (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2004), 39.

[iii] Brockriede, “Arguers as Lovers,” 6.



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Stand up, Speak out Copyright © 2017 by Josh Miller; Marnie Lawler-Mcdonough; Megan Orcholski; Kristin Woodward; Lisa Roth; and Emily Mueller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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