Analyzing the Rhetorical Situation
When you approach a communication situation, you need to
consider several how several variables will affect your strategies of
influence. This situation, which Bitzer describes as
the “rhetorical situation,” offers many possible means of persuasion which the
effective communicator can use to accomplish his or her purpose.
This material is largely taken from Ehninger, Douglas, et
al. Principles and Types of Speech Communication. 9th Ed.
Glenview, IL: Scott, Forseman and Co., 1986.
The Nature and Purpose of the Occasion
Is yours a voluntary or a captive audience?
general, the more “captive” your audience, the less initial interest audience
members will show and the greater will be their resistance to accepting your
information or point of view.
are they here?
Are they here to learn, laugh or heckle?
they here to hear a sales pitch?
Do they expect to make a decision?
The Prevailing Rules or Customs
Will there be a regular order of business or a fixed
program into which your speech must fit?
it the custom of the group to ask questions of the speaker after the address?
Do the listeners expect a formal or informal speaking
you, as the speaker, be expected to extend complimentary remarks, or to express
respect for some tradition or concept?
Do they expect a particular form of message, like a
research report of a pep talk?
The Physical Conditions
Will your speech be given out-of-doors or in an
the weather likely to be hot or cold?
Will the audience be sitting or standing; if sitting,
will the members be crowded together or scattered about?
how large a room will the speech be presented?
Will an electronic public address system be used?
Will facilities be provided for the audiovisual
reinforcements you will use, or must you bring your own?
Will you be seen and heard easily?
Are there likely to be disturbances in the form of
noise or interruptions from the outside?
Events Preceding or Following Your Speech
At what time of day or night will your speech be given?
after a heavy meal or a long program, both of which may induce drowsiness and
reduce listener interest?
before the principal address or event of the evening?
whom and in what manner will you be introduced to the audience?
What other items are on the program?
are their tone and character?
Specificity of Purpose
you have a part-time job with your college’s Career Planning and Placement
Office. You know enough about its operations and have enough personal interest
in it to want to speak about career planning and placement to different
audiences. What you have discovered about different audiences should help you
determine appropriate specific purposes for each audience.
you were to talk to a group of incoming freshmen, for example, you’d know that
1.) know little or nothing about career planning and placement
as a college office (that is, have few beliefs, none of which are fixed);
2.) are predisposed to look favorably upon career planning and
placement (given job anxieties among college graduates);
at their particular stage of life and of educational development, more
concerned with such pragmatic concerns as getting an adviser, getting
registered, and learning about basic degree requirements than they are with
longer-range matters like post-degree placement (and hence may not value your
information without motivation);
4.) are likely to see you as an authoritative speaker and hence
are willing to listen to you.
these audience considerations, you probably should keep your talk fairly
general. Feed them basic, not detailed, information about career planning and
placement; remind them that the office can relieve many of their later
anxieties, as graduation nears; show them how thinking about possible careers
will help them select majors and particular courses. You might phrase your
specific purpose as follows: “To brief incoming freshmen on the range of
services offered by the Career Planning and Placement Office.” That orientation
would include a basic description of each service and general advice to use the
services in making some curricular decisions.
you, instead, to talk about this subject to an incoming group of new faculty,
you’d assess the audience differently. You probably would discover that they:
1.) know quite a bit about career planning and placement offices
(having used them themselves and perhaps having worked with them in previous
mixed feelings about career planning and placement (because some faculty think
that too much emphasis upon careers turns colleges and universities into
“trade” schools rather than centers of humane learning);
3.) tend to value education “for its own sake” (that is,
philosophically), rather than as a route to employment (that is,
4.) are likely to view you as a mere student or a mere college
these factors, you’d probably have to get a good deal more specific in some
areas of your speech. You’d want to describe the particular features of this
office’s operations rather than only its general duties; your listeners need to
know “how” because they already know the “what. “ You’d have to reassure them
that your office is an adjunct to the university’s mission,
that you realize not all course selections should be based solely on
career choices. And, you probably would want to demonstrate your expertise by
talking about career possibilities across a variety of fields (especially if
you know what fields are represented in the group of incoming faculty). You
might phrase your specific purpose like this: “To inform incoming faculty about
Langford College’s philosophy of career planning and placement, about ways
‘faculty members in all fields can help their students use the Career Planning
and Placement Office, and about informational assistance the Office provides
Areas of Audience Interest.
Both demographic and psychological analyses are most
useful to you in deciding what ideas will be of interest to your listeners.
often are able to infer audience interests—at least potential interests—from knowing
something about their demographic and psychological characters.
Sometimes, you will want to create a new set of
interests in an audience, especially by connecting the new interests to old
The Audience’s Capacity to
Limit your request to an action lying within your
listener’s range of authority.
determine ranges of authority through analysis of the audience, especially of
Degrees of Change.
Determine how far you can move an audience
intellectually, emotionally, and actively.
analysis, in other words, should help you determine how much you can change an
audience and what kinds of commitments you can expect from your listeners. You
should phrase your specific purposes and central ideas or claims accordingly.
Segmentation: Selecting Dominant Ideas and Appeals for a Typical Mixed Audience
Among advertisers, the approach is called audience segmentation. Audience
segmentation is the approaching of a collection of listeners as a series of
subgroups, or “differentiated populations. “ Segmenting your audience into
subgroups, or reference groups, will help you select your dominant appeals.’
a speaker to say, “Because all you girls are interested in efficient cooking,
today I want to talk about four ways a food processor will save you time in the
kitchen,” he or she probably would alienate two subgroups in the audience: The
females probably would be irritated with the stereotyped term girls, while the
males who cooked would be offended by having been left out. The appeal would be
better phrased: “Because everyone who cooks is interested in. . . .” Here, you
are aiming the interest-appeal to the proper audience segment-the culinary
unless you are sure there are no Roman Catholics in your audience, you probably
will want to avoid blaming the Catholic religious hierarchy for the
anti-abortion movement in this country;
so many people in this country identify with businesses and industries, you
probably would not want to blame “the business establishment” alone for
probably would be foolhardy to refer to “dumb jocks,” “artsy-craftsy theatre
majors,” and “computer fanatics” in a speech on the goals of college education
to your speech class.
is not to say, of course, that you never confront directly beliefs, attitudes,
and values of subgroups represented in your audience—that you always and only
say what people “want” to hear. Only be sure that you avoid stereotyped references
to people and groups, that you avoid blanket
condemnation of groups of people, and that, when possible, you work around
touchy subjects and cite ample and unbiased evidence when you must attack a
group’s beliefs, attitudes, and sacred values.
Selecting Relevant Belief and
Audience analysis, in combination with audience
segmentation, is an invaluable tool for selecting your main lines of appeal and
you were to give a speech to a local Rotary Club about the establishment of a
community hospice-a team of medical personnel, psychologists, social workers,
and other volunteers who work with terminally-ill people and their families.
Suppose in this speech you are trying to raise money to set up the hospice. As
a group, a Rotary Club normally is composed of business people, medical
professionals, educators, social service personnel, lawyers, bankers, and the
like. By thinking of the Rotary audience as segmented into such subgroups, you
should be in a position to offer each subgroup some reasons to support the
community hospice. For example:
A community hospice should be supported by all segments in our town because:
doctors, nurses, and hospital workers, a hospice provides help for the dying,
and therefore is a complement to your work to save the living.
those of you working in social services, a hospice uses a social-team concept,
and therefore allows you to work with needy people in a way you can’t now.
those of you in education, a hospice provides unequaled opportunities for on the-job
training for many different kinds of students because it uses volunteers.
for those of you from the banks and businesses of this community, a hospice is
a vital local resource, something which can be used by your employees and their
families and which sets this community apart from all the others in our area.
of these appeals, of course, would be expanded in an actual speech
Choosing Among Valuative Appeals.
Select a valuative vocabulary
for your speeches.
informative messages and reports need to contain appeals to audience interests;
you can use a valuative vocabulary to motivate
different segments of the audience to listen to and accept your information.
1.) For a
class demonstration speech, you might say: “Today, I want to teach you three
basic techniques of Oriental cooking: cutting meats and vegetables, using spices, and quick-cooking your food in a wok. If you learn
these techniques, you’ll expand your range of expertise in the kitchen [personal
value], you’ll save money on your food and energy bills [economic value],
you’ll prepare satisfying meals for your friends [social value], and you’ll
prepare nutritious, healthful meals for everyone [pragmatic value].” With that
statement, you will have given your audience four different reasons for
listening, and hence will have a good chance of appealing to everyone in your
speech. (If that’s not enough, tell them the meals will be beautiful, too,
thereby adding an aesthetic value.)
Valuative appeals are more
important to persuasive and actuative (getting
someone to take action) speeches.
The United States
should take immediate, concrete steps to improve its relationships with the
Republic of China. Why?
Politically, better relations with China
will reduce international tensions and allow us to head off potential conflicts
before they explode.
represents the world’s largest market for U.S.
agricultural and industrial goods.
Sociologically, it’s desirable for two cultures as different as ours and theirs
to better understand each other, for in understanding lies intercultural
Culturally (that is, aesthetically), China
and the United States
have varied artistic traditions, so both worlds will be richer if we can
increase cultural exchanges.
Psychologically, the levels of anxiety and distrust existing among citizens of
both countries can be reduced through expanded people-to-people exchanges.
have not used every conceivable value term in this segmentation of appeals, but
the procedure is clear:
through possible reasons people might accept your proposition in valuative terms;
use a valuative vocabulary in phrasing your actual
appeals for acceptance.
Basic Tips for Getting Audience Info
Think through your personal experiences with
identifiable groups in the audience
with program chairpersons and others who can tell you “who” is in the audience
and something about their interests
Ask speakers who’ve addressed these and similar
audiences what to expect
some people who’ll be there, to find out more about their beliefs, attitudes,
and values-their range of concerns.