When I wrote A Climb to the Top, the Ten Commandments of Great Communicators was meant as a framework for how we communicate. No matter your audience, whether it’s one-on-one, a small group, or a huge crowd, it doesn’t matter—the principles are the same.
The skills and methods introduced in the Ten Commandments of Great Communicators provide tactics, which are applicable to any audience, regardless of size or scale.
Some people believe that with large audiences—greater than one hundred people, for example—a speaker’s ability to interact with those in attendance lessens. That’s simply not the case; interaction comes just as easily. No matter the size of the crowd, it’s critical that you find a small number of audience members to engage. Bringing a few up on stage to demonstrate something (body language, for example, is always good to illustrate) is a fun and interactive way for the audience to feel the energy on the stage.
This is what I tell each of my clients: whether it’s forty or four hundred people in the audience, don’t treat your presentation any differently. If you internalize the Ten Commandments and start with small crowds, you’ll find that you won’t need to do anything differently or do any extra preparation when you’re asked to approach a larger audience.
There is only one exception to this when it comes to audience size: eye contact. The difference? In larger audiences, there are many more eyes to connect with. Make sure you span the audience more frequently and try to establish that contact with as many attendees as possible. The venue itself may present different challenges that you’ll want to be aware of. For instance, if there is a balcony, this can be challenging, but not impossible. Acknowledge their presence and look up as often as you can to make them feel included.
The most important component of venue preparation is what you learn from actors about to take a stage: “check your tech.” Microphones, PowerPoints, video, audio, and other dependencies can be a major—if not your only—source of anxiety. I’m always confident in what I’m about to present, irrespective of the venue. However, each venue is wired differently and can ruin your presentation if you are not prepared. To the extent possible, do a tech check before you present. Get on stage and practice with the technology you’ll need to use.
Go through your speech the way you would as if you were delivering it on game day. Stand on the stage and visualize your audience. Wire in your microphone, the clicker for your power point, any videos should be imbedded and launched seamlessly. This is also a great opportunity to review the seating arrangements. I once spoke in a hotel conference room that felt more like a bowling alley. It was six chairs wide, fifty chairs deep. Instead of delivering from the front, I walked up and down the aisles to ensure audience connection.
Know before you go. Know your presentation in and out. Know your venue and how your audience is situated to listen to you. Know the technical requirements of the space. The more you know, the more successful of an experience you and your audience will have.