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Know Your Audience

Audiences and readers bring a number of different attitudes to the discussion of any issue.  Speakers and writers can expect :

  1. Believers
  2. Deniers
  3. Doubters
  4. Apathetic

1. Who do you want as your audience or readers? Believers, who already accept what you have to say?

When you talk or write to believers, you have an audience who holds essentially the same beliefs that you have. Often an audience of believers will agree with almost everything you say.

When Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Zionist lobby group AIPAC or the US Congress, he’s talking to believers.

When Barack Obama address Congress, he’s lucky to get fifty percent acceptance from his audience. Only some of his listeners are believers.

Preachers, priests and Imams talking to their congregations have audiences who attend their sermons because they believe in the speaker and his message.

2. Do you want to try to convert deniers who refuse to accept almost anything you have to say? They reflect the opposite of audiences for believers.

Can deniers be persuaded to accept a position opposed to one they previously held with strong conviction?

Deniers declare opposition untrue or they refuse to accept or recognize legitimate differing views.

Following national party politics might readily convince listeners that efforts to change minds are impossible time-wasters. Yet strong deniers have been known to occasionally become converts with the right kind of persuasion.

A stunning example of this happened with the change in political orientation of a number of early readers of Ayn Rand’s novels. Several strongly committed liberals became conservatives overnight.

Though it’s rare for any transformation from deniers to believers happening from listening to a speaker, there are examples of it in literary works.

Epiphanies, like those found in James Joyce’s Dubliners and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird provide good examples of what some call “an aha moment”.

A sudden, powerful, and often spiritual or life changing realization that a character experiences in an otherwise ordinary moment is an epiphany that can change denial to a belief.

3. Do you want to provide evidence and reassurance to doubters who question most of what you argue?

Doubters question everything. That doesn’t mean disbelief or rejection of everything, though that’s how the term has been used.

The doubters that writers or speakers are concerned with are looking for answers.

They have questions about the accuracy of facts, events, identities and testimony. They want to probe deeply into a writer’s premises, the logic of his argument, and the conclusions he draws.

He says, in effect, that he will support your position if you answer his questions satisfactorily.

With the right kind of evidence, the doubter can become a believer. Much of what’s found in op-ed columns is fodder for the doubter.

4. Finally, the most difficult of listeners and readers is the apathetic public. They simply don’t care much about anything beyond the realm of their day-to-day activities.

They develop interests in things that they were apathetic about only when the shoe pinches and not before.

They’re preoccupied with their jobs, their families, sports, films, a favourite news and entertainment channel.

Since the internet has made quick fixes popular through Facebook and twitter, the apathetic will spend a little time with those social networks.

In summary:- 

  1. Believers need a fresh approach to what they already accept and may know more about than you.
  2. Deniers have their minds made up; don’t attempt to confuse them with the facts.
  3. Doubters need answers to questions that could involve every aspect of your message.
  4. Apathetic audiences can only be stimulated by fear or anger at public policy or action that directly affects them.

The important thing to remember is that some audiences are unreachable; and those that can be reached need convincing answers.

14 Responses to Know Your Audience

  1. who_me June 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    nice summation.

  2. Ariadna Theokopoulos June 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Is there no 5th category for the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed novices who come willing to listen and learn with no preconceived ideas?

    • etominusipi June 3, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

      a good point, Ariadna – this 5th category is perhaps the only part of an audience that a speaker or writer should be concerned to serve.

      Paul is right to emphasize this typology – so many good souls believe, against all experience teaches them, that one merely has to articulate truth and it will be accepted by all who hear it.

      from the gospels:

      1) let the dead bury their dead

      2) blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness

      [true the word ‘righteousness’ has been greatly sullied by its abuse in the hands of religious bigots. but i take its meaning here to be essentially similar to the platonic term “the Good”]

      happeh belongs to category 6, apparently, which i shall make no attempt to define here.

  3. happeh June 3, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    Did you ever wonder if your writing is influenced by the fact that you write for categories instead of human beings?

    I can tell you I never listen to people who treat me as “Category 2 – Denier” instead of a human being named “happeh”.

    • who_me June 3, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

      “instead of a human being named “happeh”

      what proof is there that you are a human being?

      • happeh June 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

        What is your goal in making that comment?

  4. Somoe June 3, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    A brilliant piece of writing that perfectly describes the attitudes of readers. You only have to look at the comment threads on deliberation to have this perfectly illustrated, and indeed it is often the case that the comment threads allow the doubter to be convinced or a believer to be convinced by an opposing argument. The discourse and debate are what make deliberation such an invigorating space where minds can meet, share their knowledge/ideas/experience and challenge falsehood.

  5. Jonathon Blakeley June 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    Brilliant Paul… I can see how many people revert to therese types..

    Trying to update the list

    1. Believers
    2. Deniers
    3. Doubters
    4. Apathetic
    5. Novices
    6. Gnostics?

    Novices and Gnostics seem nicely balanced

    • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

      One more:
      Opportunists, who show up because:
      –refreshments are served
      –they perceive it as PC or useful to be seen to belong to that group
      –they have no particular opinion or care but have it in for particular members of the ‘opposition’

      • who_me June 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

        wot about the ones who showed up because they heard there would be nekked chicks or chippendales there?

        • etominusipi June 3, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

          subcategory of the opportunists.

  6. Jonathon Blakeley June 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    1. Believers
    2. Deniers
    3. Doubters
    4. Apathetic
    5. Novices
    6. Gnostics
    7. Opportunists.

    & Repeat.

    • Somoe June 3, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

      This is what i love most about deliberation~ how the comment threads develop the idea…and co-creation occurs.

  7. Lasse Wilhelmson June 3, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    As a reader I think I am in most categories at the same time, and it even varies dyring reading.

    What about “truthseekers”?

    And writing without listening to your heart and tell a god story, few will bother.