Adapting to an Audience

The purpose of audience adaptation is to tailor your speech to the audience so that it will be more persuasive.

If your audience adaptation is not also true of most people in society, it’s good audience adaptation.

CORRECT – They are college students so I compared the cost of adopting a dog to the cost of a textbook.

Are most people in society college students? No, so this is good audience adaptation.

CORRECT – They are dentists so I compared the cost of adopting a dog to the cost of a dental filling.

Are most people in society dentists? No, so this is good audience adaptation.

If your audience adaptation is also true of most people in society, it’s not audience adaptation.

INCORRECT – They are people who like to get a good bargain so I talked about how cheap it is to adopt a dog.

Do most people in society like a good bargain? Yes, so this is not audience adaptation.

Don’t make this harder than it is.  If you were speaking to medical doctors about drug addiction you would include different information than if you were speaking to boy scouts.  If you were speaking in Georgia about textbook costs, you might take an example from the University of Georgia book store; whereas, if you were in Wisconsin, you might use an example from the University of Wisconsin book store.  In other words, tailor the presentation to the people in the room a bit.

Your audience for the presentation will be college students from your area, so relate your speech, in small or big ways, to things that only college students know and deal with (like the stress of finals week or buying textbooks), or to the area itself.  For example, compare the stress of what you’re talking about to the stress of having a research paper due, compare the price of something to a textbook, or explain where you might find the things you’re talking about in the surrounding area.

If you do audience adaptation well, you will choose a few things to say that wouldn’t work with a different type of audience halfway across the country.

To do this effectively, answer this two-part question: How is my audience different, and how can I improve my message based on this difference?

Let’s say you needed to speak to a Kiwanis Club (probably local business people and community leaders) about traffic congestion. You might do audience adaptation something like this:

  1. My audience is different from the general public in that they are concerned about the profitability of downtown businesses. So, based on that difference, I will improve my speech by talking about how solving some of our congestion problems might increase profits in downtown businesses.
  2. My audience is different from the general public in that they are from Janesville, WI. So, based on that difference, I will improve my speech by including an example of how a town of a similar size improved downtown traffic flow and increased business.

When you do audience adaptation for a different topic and audience, simply replace the red type above with your own information.

There are two common mistakes people make when doing audience adaptation:

  • The Everyone Mistake – “Everyone likes to save money.” This doesn’t tell me how the audience is different than the general public; it tells me how they are the same
  • The Insult Mistake – Audience adaptation asks you to make generalizations. If your generalization is wrong, make sure it won’t insult the audience. For example, don’t assume that a women’s group will be overjoyed to get your latest brownie recipe, or that a group of African-Americans will be interested in basketball.

Now choose one of the following and try it. Find two ways that your audience is different and a way to change your speech for each. (Do it just like numbers one and two above.):

Topic Audience

  1. Fire safety – 2nd Graders
  2. New type of Jello – Grocery store managers
  3. Drug addiction – Residents of a nursing home
  4. Textbook costs – College board
  5. Canoeing – Native Americans