The mission of the G.I.F.T. (Great Ideas for Teaching) Interest Group is to provide members of the Association a place to share their teaching activities and assignment to enhance the ever-changing communication discipline.
Chair and Program Planner Mark Cruea, Ohio Northern University
Vice-Chair and Program Planner Kathie Fleck, Ohio Northern University Secretary Stacey Macchi, Western Illinois University
Sample G.I.F.T. Submission
Considering Lyrics as Public
Speeches: Extending the Application of Audience Analysis
Course: Public Speaking Objectives:
To increase students’ understanding and
use of audience analysis techniques.
To expand students’ perceptions of what
counts as persuasive discourse.
To enhance students’ critical thinking skills
While audience analysis
remains one of the most important skills public speakers can employ, the
activities to assess speakers’ abilities to analyze their audiences are fairly
standard: Select a speech (usually delivered by someone “famous”) and determine
how that speaker adapted to her/his audience by using specific evidence from
the actual speech to support your claims. Having used this approach numerous
times, I know this activity successfully demonstrates how effective speakers
are able to tailor their messages to their audiences; however, I sought an
assignment that went beyond the basics of audience analysis (e.g., What are the
demographics and psychographics of the speaker’s audience and how does s/he
adapt to these concepts?). As a rhetorician, I want students to understand that
rhetors in various contexts are able to construct a type of reality through
their use of words and that these rhetors often encourage audiences to accept
their view of reality without question. I also stress to students that while
examples of rhetoric certainly include presidential addresses and speeches by
Congressional representatives, rhetoric must also, as Burke notes, be thought
of “[…] as a general body ofidentifications that owe their
convincingness much more to trivial repetition and dull daily reënforcement
than to exceptional rhetorical skill” (26, emphasis in original). Thus, I
developed an assignment that invites students to assess the lyrics of
contemporary songs since these rhetorical texts do not appear to be explicitly
Description of the
This activity may be
completed in a 50 or 75 minute class period. This activity requires a student
handout featuring questions for analysis (see below), lyrics to the song being
analyzed, and a recording of the song being analyzed.
Before completing this
activity, students should understand (a) the definition of audience analysis,
(b) the importance of conducting an analysis of their audience, and (c) the
components of audience analysis (it may even be helpful to analyze a speech
together as a class to determine the demographics, psychographics, and the cultural
values of a particular audience so that students have a clear understanding of
how to conduct a basic audience analysis). Students should also be familiar
with the notion that, through persuasive discourse, rhetors are able to develop
a type of reality for their audiences. One of my favorite examples includes the
naming of diseases. As Shilts reports, in the early 1980s, it seemed that gay
men were overwhelmingly being stricken with a peculiar and new disease. As
such, the disease was named Gay Related Illness Disease (GRID). GRID would
later be renamed Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome in 1982 by the Centers for
Disease Control so that the name of the illness would not just highlight one
population for possible discrimination and also allowing members of other
populations to assume they could not become infected with GRID if they were not
gay men. This is just one example of how language can draw attention to
particular aspects of a situation and deflect attention away from others.
At the beginning of class explain to the
students that they’re going to be conducting a more advanced form of audience
analysis to determine who rhetors are able to persuade without seeming to do
so. Distribute the song lyrics to “She Thinks His Name was John” (search any popular
lyrics site). Ask students to read the lyrics before you play it (this should
take about 5 minutes). Play the song for the class two times and ask students
to answer the following questions (this should take 15 minutes):
Questions for Students to Answer While
Listening to the Song:
What is the overall message of this song? That
is, what are the rhetors (i.e., the songwriters) trying to persuade the
audience to do?
What is the role of the narrator? Is she
sympathetic to the other characters? Judgmental? Informative? Be sure to
use specific lines from the lyrics to support your answer.
Is the audience expected to identify with a
particular character in the song? If so, how would identifying with this
character reinforce the rhetors’ persuasive message?
What types of values (either cultural or social)
do the rhetors hold? For example, what does the song encourage the
audience to believe (again, be sure to use specific lines from the lyrics
to support your answer)?
Are the values identified in the song presented
in an overtly persuasive manner (i.e., do the rhetors tell the audience
exactly how to behave)?
Were the rhetors successful in their analysis of
their audience (i.e., how are they able to persuade listeners without
making it seem as if they are doing so)?
Depending on the size of your class, you
could ask individual students to share their answers with the entire class or
you could assign students into group and have each individual share his/her
responses with the group (this should take 10 minutes).
After students have shared
their responses with their groups or the entire class, you’ll need to debrief
by asking the class the following questions:
Can you think of other
examples in our culture where rhetors are able to persuade us without
seeming to do so?
importance of tone in your own speeches: Are audiences more apt to be
persuaded when they think they are merely being “informed,” or when they
know they’re being persuaded?
Let’s focus on the
upcoming persuasive speech in our class: Given your topic can you think of
a way you might want to persuade your audience by telling them to do the
opposite? That is, in the song we analyzed, the rhetors try to get
audience members to practice safer sex by describing what happens when a
woman did not engage in safer sex practices—could you use this type of
strategy in your speech?
Students enjoy this activity
since they are able to analyze a different type of rhetorical text. In addition
to analyzing the lyrics, I’ve had students point to changes in the musical
score and in the type of instruments used in the song as further evidence of
persuasion. Since this is an in-class activity, students are awarded
participation points depending on the significance of their contributions. For
alternative uses or extensions of this activity, students could bring the
lyrics of their favorite song to the next class to practice the skills they’ve
learned and then share their analysis with their group or the entire class.
Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric
of Motives. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1969.
Shilts, Randy. And the Band Played On: Politics, People,
and the AIDS Epidemic. New York: St.
Martin’s Press, 1987.