5 Guess the Audience

Arley Cruthers

Activity Guidelines

Suggested Course Level

Lower level undergraduate.

Activity Purpose

  • Students will analyze how an audience influences a communicator’s choices.
  • Students will realize how many audience analysis skills they already have.
  • Students will analyze how unconscious bias and assumptions shape our messages and sometimes cause misunderstandings.
  • Students will reflect on how their decisions as communicators change based on how much knowledge they have about their audience.

Materials Required

  • Sheet A and B
  • Envelopes

Activity Instructions

  1. Cut up Sheet A, fold up slips of paper, and place them into a cup or hat. This sheet contains different audiences. Do the same to Sheet B and place in a different cup or hat. This sheet contains different messages.
  2. Get students into groups of 4 or 5. Each group will select a slip of paper from both the ‘audiences’ cup and the ‘messages’ cup.
  3. Ask the groups to craft one or two sentences that deliver the message to the audience. Tell the group that they are not allowed to state the audience in their response.
  4. After the groups are done, ask the groups to select a new audience by selecting a new slip of paper from the audience cup. Groups must repeat the challenge for the new audience. Note that if they had to choose a movie/product/song, they must keep it the same in both messages. For example, if they explained the plot of Finding Nemo to kindergarten kids, they must explain the same movie to a CEO.
  5. Groups will read their messages out loud. The rest of the class will try to guess the audience.
  6. Debrief the activity using some of the questions below.

Debrief Questions / Activities

  • How did you craft your messages? Where did you start? How did you select words and details?
  • Did each group member interpret the audience in the same way? What disagreements did your group have? How did you resolve them? (Often, students will disagree about the ‘grandparents’ question because they come from different cultures or have grandparents of very different ages/lifestyles).
  • How were you able to guess the audience? What context clues did you look for?
  • What was the hardest audience to write for? Why?
    What assumptions did you make about your audience? (Every time I’ve done this activity, the group has made the CEO male, for example).
  • If you didn’t know much about your audience, what did you do?
  • Ask the class if anyone knows construction workers/ tech bros etc. If someone has experience with these groups, ask how successful the message would be to that audience? (Often, the group that gets ‘construction workers’ will assume they are low-tech meatheads, but people who know construction workers will say that this is a myth).

Activity Variations

  • Give all groups the same message.
  • Allow groups to use visuals.
  • Give all groups the same message but have groups select both an ‘audience’ and a ‘medium/genre.’ I have included genres like ‘comic strip,’ ‘interpretive dance,’ ‘poem,’ ‘memo’ and ‘charades.’ This shifts the focus to how the constraints of a genre and audience shape a message. While it may seem silly, it really exaggerates what decisions communicators have to make, which makes them easier to discuss (and it ends up being a good icebreaker).
  • Have students come up with the audiences and messages.

Additional Resources / Supplementary Resources


Tags: audience analysis / context analysis, persuasive messages, writing mechanics, grammar, style, tone, concision, communication models, discussion, hands-on, small group, creating a product or document, persuasion, Rogerian analysis, reflection


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