written by Rima-Maria Rahal & Tobias Henz
To really get a grip on your audience, it helps a great deal to think about what your audience cares about. Clearly, if a speaker addresses an issue we care about, we are more likely to listen, to partake in the process of following the speakers along their arguments, and to subscribe to the message contained in the statement. But what does your audience care about? That in itself clearly is a difficult question to ask - obviously, you cannot look into your audience’s soul and determine without erring what each single listener desires and hopes and dreams about. For initial inspiration about what might be going on in the mind of your audience, you could turn to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow suggests a number of needs that drive people, and thinking about which of these needs might be activated in your audience can help you find a connection to bridge to them. Here are some examples: Has the schedule been jumbled up and lunch time is being pushed backwards, although everyone’s stomach is starting to growl? You can easily build a connection to your audience through a witty comment on the food situation. Is it raining and water is dripping through the roof of the venue? Is the WiFi service exceptionally bad? A remark tailored around this shared experience could get you the initial attention of your audience.
Taking the idea of connecting your audience a bit further than “just” to the basic human needs, we can take a glance at classic rhetorics. A formalization of three fundamental ways to build persuasive statements builds on ethos, pathos, and logos. To craft a persuasive statement, it helps to consider how much of each building blocks to use for the fundament of your statement. Ethos modulates the way presenters displays their characters - calmly professional, coolly distanced, or perhaps fierily engaged - which needs to match the content of the speech to be persuasive. Pathos appeals to emotions and brings the audience aboard with their gut feeling. Logos speaks to rational arguments, and appeals to the audience following your red line of logic leading them through your statement. A convincing statement is tailored to the needs of the audience in all three domains, and Obama’s speech demonstrates clear excellence in appealing to each domain.
If we check for ways that Obama connects to the audience, here are some of the things we noticed. Firstly, using nothing but body language, Obama connects to his audience by greeting many of them - and not just the people in the front rows - personally. Quite a literal way of connecting with the audience. Next, notice, that the POTUS draws on a common experience appealing to the physical needs of the audience: he points out that they have come to the speech despite the cold, which he is experiencing too, easily finding a point of connection. And perhaps most importantly, notice how Obama appeals to three of the core values of the American society almost instantly when coming onto the stage: God, patriotism, and family. Most Americans would subscribe to valuing at least one of these three core institutions, such that the POTUS can create connection and agreement to a large majority of his audience within the first few seconds of the speech.
Of course there are several other “tricks” Obama used to connect to his audience - but we’ll leave it for you to look for them and share them here!
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