The first question you should ask when preparing a presentation is, who’s my audience?  But that question requires more than a one-word answer.  It’s the beginning of an exploration of the exact circumstances of your audience – who, what, when, where, and why – everything about them you can determine. 

Why should you care?  After all, isn’t it a matter of integrity to say the same thing to everybody?  Yes and no.  The message, fundamentally, has to be the same.  But the shape that it takes may need to be entirely different.  Would you use the same words to describe World War II to a group of six-year-olds as you would to a group of adults? 

Let me begin this week of 5 quick blogs on audience in 5 days by talking about why audience size matters – and in ways that you might not expect.

Small audiences (less than 100 people) are easier to interact with, of course, but the mistake that most speakers make is to think that real interaction isn’t possible with a large audience.  So those speakers resort to dumb shout-outs (raise your hand if you like raisins!) with large audiences because they believe that nothing else is possible. 

In fact, audiences both large and small thrive on direct interaction with a speaker.  Don’t be afraid to sally out into that audience of 600 people and have a real conversation with one person here and another person there – on the other side of the audience.  The result makes the room feel small to everyone – in a good way. 

It takes more energy on the part of the speaker, but the results are extraordinary. 

Large audiences are different in two important ways.  First, they want to laugh more than small audiences, so give them a chuckle or two from time to time.  And second, they react more slowly than a small audience, because of the sheer physics of sound waves.  So slow down, and give them time to react.

Next time – what to do when an audience knows each other, and when it doesn’t. 


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