by Steve Adubato, PhD
When it comes to speaking in public, the size of your audience DOES matter. Any presentation seeking to persuade, inform and connect on a personal and emotional level. However, the approach one uses to achieve this may need to be revised depending upon whether you are speaking to 1 or 1,000. Consider the following:
--The smaller the audience, the fewer the presenters. One of the worst communication mistakes is to have four or five people making a presentation to one or two people. This approach can overwhelm your audience. Very often, teams feel the need to have every member speak in public. This is a mistake. When dealing with a small audience of one or two, pick the most effective one or two presenters and have the rest of the team be there for support or to answer particular questions.
--I’m a big fan of interactive presentations, yet many professionals believe this style only works with a smaller audience. Not true. Sure, it’s easier to interact with an audience of five to ten, but it’s still very possible with a group of over 50. However, the larger your group, the more you must project your voice. You want to have a conversational style, but as the size of your audience grows, that conversational style must become more animated. The larger your audience, the more you have to put your entire body into the presentation.
--Another mistake people make is to assume you must be formal in your approach when communicating to any audience greater than 20. Think about it. Focus groups and market research of audiences consistently find that most people appreciate being engaged and involved in a presentation. People want to be spoken to, not at.
--Do you stand or sit? While I prefer standing for most presentations, you can look like an idiot if you stand when presenting to one person. However, when sitting around a table of between 10 or 20 people, contrary to conventional wisdom, standing is still preferable. Have you ever been in a meeting around a table where you are unable to see the face of the person presenting? When you speak, it is essential that you can easily see everyone in your audience and they in turn can see you.
--Let’s talk microphones. If your audience is smaller than 50, you are better off without the microphone. However, if you are in a larger room or auditorium with an audience approaching 100 or more, use a microphone. Without it, you might be tempted to shout. Bad move. Using a microphone will allow you to keep a more conversational tone, and still be heard by everyone. But remember, microphones often break down. Always be prepared to speak without a microphone, regardless of the size of your audience.
--Eye contact is always easier with a smaller group of less than 10. But when dealing with a group larger than that, eye contact is still important. Do it by quadrants, breaking the audience up into four areas. Pick a single person in each quadrant and talk directly to them, but don’t do it in a sequential, predictable fashion. Mix it up.
--Finally, break the plane. If you are behind a podium or on the stage speaking to a group of over 100, you must physically move closer to them. This breaks down barriers. Getting closer helps you make the connection we all seek when speaking in public.