Since childhood, most of us have realized the importance of audience. Recounting an escapade to a friend, we used certain language and tone but changed both when we told a parent about the event. We may even have adjusted our content or its organization. It's not (necessarily) that we lied or even embellished. We shaped and delivered the message in a way that we hoped made it more effective, a way that would accomplish our purpose. Children can be good strategists.
Presenters must also be good strategists. One way they demonstrate that skill is by analyzing their audience early in the preparation process. They use the analysis to help determine not only what they will say but how.
Foundational to audience analysis is knowing the size of your audience as well as the venue and timing of your presentation. All three affect the design of visuals and choice of equipment but also how you will deliver. Scale gestures, movement, voice, and facial expressions to the size of the audience and the room but also to your place on the agenda. Audience members may be more receptive early in the day but grow cranky later. Who speaks before you? Depending on audience response to the previous presentation, you could walk into reflected glory and goodwill or lingering lethargy and hostility.
To address your listeners at the level of their existing knowledge, evaluate their familiarity with your topic. If they have considerable expertise, you won't need to provide much background. But if they are less experienced, plan to include the background or history necessary for them to better understand and accept your message. Think in terms of how much information your audience requires, not how much information you can provide.
You must also identify the specific interests of your audience and speak to those interests. Factors such as educational and job background, professional activity, cultural differences, and work or personal experience can affect how your listeners respond. The more you know about these, the more likely you are to connect with your listeners from their point of view. Be aware also that most audiences subscribe to the "What's in it for me?" rule; they need to know upfront how your message might affect them. As you plan, embed the answers to this question early in your remarks.
Your audience may hold strong views about your topic. Determining what generates emotion in your listeners, positive or negative, is an essential step. Know the emotional triggers and prepare to deal with them. Try to predict biases and preconceptions, including those the audience may have about you. Although you probably cannot transform every attitude or emotion, you can strategically present your position by taking probable concerns into account.
Audience analysis may not be as simple as it once was. Still, the better you know your listeners, the better able you are to shape your message to reflect their specific interests and concerns.