Supercompetent Speaking: Presenting to Large Audiences

The consequences of making mistakes increase with the audience size, as thereメs more influence represented by numbers.

By Laura Stack, MBA, CSP

By now, you surely know the basics for successfully presenting a pitch, speech, workshop, or seminar to any audience:

  • Careful preparation
  • Ample rehearsal
  • A professional appearance
  • Solid credibility
  • Compelling delivery
  • Plenty of enthusiasm

When presenting to larger audience—those numbering into the hundreds or thousands—there are some additional dynamics to consider. Everything that applies to smaller audiences still applies, but you’ll want to consider a few other factors as well before you go on stage.

First of all, don’t assume that presenting to a large audience is always harder than presenting to a small one. In some ways, it can be easier! Large audiences often mean better time control (due to the unpredictability of group dynamics in interactive sessions), shorter presentations (an audience can’t go much longer than 75 to 90 minutes without needing a break), and fewer questions to answer (the audience is either too large or Q&A is not offered).

On the other hand, there are some factors that make a large audience more difficult. The consequences of making mistakes increase with the audience size, as there’s more influence represented by numbers. I find it harder to connect with audience members. I recently gave a keynote presentation for 12,500 people, and with the spotlight in your eyes and a huge stage, you can’t even see people.

So what do you do instead?

  1. Hook the audience quickly and thoroughly. The more people you face, the more easily boredpeople you face. People are so distracted today, if you’re not interesting and compelling, they will leave the room to deal with something more pressing. Begin with a stirring anecdote, explosive fact, or startling statistic. Project your voice so all can hear, but vary your vocal delivery in terms of speed, timing, and volume, without speaking in a monotone. Make sure everyone can see the screen where you’ll project your graphics. Choose strong examples, eye-catching visuals, and engaging stories.
  2. Address someone toward the back of the room. With larger audiences and bright stage lights in your eyes, you can’t see individual audience members very well. As a result, you won’t be able to make eye contact with most of the people in the room. Instead, try to “speak” to audience members in the back of the room. Talking “to the back” keeps your head and eyes up, making you appear more alert and confident.
  3. Don’t  overdo the stage. Because of the large platform, which will get larger with the size of the audience, you might be tempted to “work the stage.” I’ve seen speakers race back and forth like caged tigers, while the person behind the camera tries vainly to track them, and audience members grow ill from the image on the iMag moving about crazily. You don’t have to be a spaz on stage to keep the audience’s attention. Instead, remember your image is projected in full on the iMag, and talk to the camera. Act like you’re talking with one person. Make your gestures “larger,” but don’t resort to running around like a maniac to try to “fill” the stage.
  4. Provide a little entertainment value. Be unique and memorable. You don’t have to do a vaudeville routine, but injecting humor will be much appreciated by audience members. Make your energy and enthusiasm for the subject abundantly clear. Keep your presentation upbeat and positive. Get out from behind your podium and work the stage—you may even want to go out into the audience as I do if you’re comfortable. Practice “being spontaneous” in advance; Mark Twain, who was almost as well known for his lectures as for his books, once quipped that it took him a good three weeks of rehearsal to achieve spontaneity.
  5. Arrive early and stay late. This is basic, but it’s especially important with large audiences. Arriving early allows you to check over the stage layout and “feel” in advance, and it also lets you mingle with the crowd and acquaint yourself with people as they arrive. If your travel arrangements allow, don’t rush out right after your closing comments; instead, mingle with your now-fans, who most certainly will come up to greet and compliment you, to network and answer questions.

As speakers, we all want to be so riveting that no one will ever look away, fidget, or check their e-mail (ha ha ha ha!); obviously that doesn’t happen often in reality. So don’t let it get to you if not everyone pays attention 100 percent of the time. While understanding this truth, you must still keep an eye on your audience members’ body language. If you seem to be losing them, put these tips into play, and step it up a bit. They won’t be distracted by anything but their brains, thinking about all the action steps they’ll take as a result of your brilliant comments.

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, is an expert in productivity. For more than 20 years, her speeches have helped entrepreneurs, leaders, teams, and organizations improve output, lower stress, and save time at work and in life. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides time management workshops around the globe that help attendeesachieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time. An expert in the field of performance and workplace issues, Stack is theauthor of many books, most recently “What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do.” Connect with her at http://www.TheProductivityPro.com; http://www.facebook.com/productivitypro; or twitter.com/laurastack.

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