Some of the ideas in this article are based on “Moving Mountains” by Henry Boettinger. Many say it’s the best book on communication.
Before you face your audience, remember they’re not spectators in a public whipping. The single best piece of advice: come to your presentation well-prepared.
Try to get inside their minds. If you’re planning to convince people to buy your book, it makes sense to find out if they actually like reading. Knowing how to talk to an audience means knowing what they’re thinking – to a certain degree. You don’t need to know where they attended kindergarten.
Knowing how to talk to an audience means pitching your speech according to their needs. A host in a children’s party doesn’t talk Aristotle philosophy.
For most of us, speaking in public is always like a war of nerves, which is attributed in part to the fear of the unknown (audience). If you’re hoping to make an impact, save a life, or convince people to buy your steak (in case they’re vegetarians), you have to know who you’re talking to.
Make an impression. Don’t try to impress. You’re not there to show off your extensive vocabulary or call attention to your new tie.
Audience size matters. Speaking in a big auditorium is different from presenting in a small room.
The communication equations:
In a small setting, people tend to be self-conscious. No one dares cough or chat with a seatmate. The smaller the group, the more likely some of the members are wearing a mask. Talkative people appear timid. The sleepy appear awake and alert.
Talking to a Small Audience
Appeal to the Intellect.
Prepare for big questions when talking to a small audience. They pay more attention and are more focused. They want to be ready in case you ask for inputs from them. Demonstrate expertise in your topic (not to the point of bragging).
Be detailed. Convincing a small audience takes a specific approach. Hook them with visuals, but don’t border on the emotional.
Be quick. Get down to business without much delay. Don’t take longer than an hour. Slow delivery doesn’t work in a small room; it does in a packed auditorium.
Silly jokes are really silly. A small audience doesn’t like awkward moments (well, we all don’t). Don’t try to be a stand-up comedian especially if you’re gifted with a dry sense of humor. Use interesting anecdotes related to the topic instead.
Talking to a Big Audience
If you’re a born storyteller, you’re a hit with a big audience. The point is: people may act differently when they’re in a small group from when they’re in a crowd.
The bigger the group, the more likely the members lose their inhibitions. You don’t hear wild cheering or yelling in marketing presentations – but in football matches or concerts. In big crowds, people are supercharged with emotions and feel free to do what they want. That being “just a face in the crowd” has something like a liberating effect on them.
Don’t stand there like a pole.
Relax. It doesn’t help if you let your legs grow stiff. Big groups want a good laugh or a good story. Prepare something to entertain them. Use your hands to emphasize some points. Don’t speak in a way that puts babies to sleep. No matter how interesting or how relevant your topic is, your manner of delivery can make or break your speech.
Appeal to emotions.
If you want to get your message across a big audience, appeal to their emotions. Share inspiring anecdotes they can relate to. Encourage them to participate, but don’t be picking one person and say his is the best contribution. It’s not wise to play favorites with a crowd.
Work up some dramatics.
A crowd gets bored easily. The end of a speaker is a loud, collective yawn. Like a magician with a big bag, be ready with your tricks – to keep your audience hooked. Also, involve those at the back before they doze off and fall off their seats. One way of doing this is moving around the stage (but not too much). Bring life to your speech by adding drama. I’m not saying melodrama. Knowing how to talk to an audience, a big audience in particular, takes working up some energy on the stage.
Use stories to drive home your message. An excellent speaker can incorporate storytelling and elements of literature in an otherwise yawn-inducing topic. If you want people to buy your idea on rubber processing, pitch it with Charles Goodyear’s sweet discovery story.
Don’t assume. A big audience may like to have it the easier way – with jokes and stories – but it doesn’t mean they’re readily persuaded. They still have the choice to say no. Speak to convince, not to impose.
Please… don’t read notes.
Reading notes verbatim is a sign of unpreparedness. This is tough, but for your audience to believe what you’re saying, you have to be believable. And to be believable is to demonstrate knowledge and competence in your topic.
Imagine giving a lecture on overcoming stage fright with you sweating and shaking. You’d look very far from a convincing speaker. Sounding great isn’t the end goal of speeches or presentations, but it helps to have a speaker that exudes confidence and an aura of credibility.
Most people are scared of speaking in public because they fear for their reputation. If you give an awesome, powerful speech or presentation, people are likely touched for life. But if you make a mess, you’re like a laughingstock for life as well. Nobody forgets someone who messes up in public. You can’t undo things because of the remote possibility of meeting that particular audience, the same set of people at a given time, again.
You may need a less intellectual approach with a big audience, but it’s more difficult to repair your reputation with them because it’s likely that many of the members don’t have a prior knowledge about you. On the other hand, members of a small group likely already have an idea about you beforehand.
You’re not the star.
Small and big audiences, like many of us, both have something against overconfidence and cockiness. Yes, work up some dramatics, but remember the speech doesn’t revolve around you as a person. Always prepare for a big show, but the STAR isn’t you but your message.
Knowing how to talk to an audience begins with an understanding that the success of the talk is measured not in terms of your capacity as a speaker but in how well your message is received.
Speaking in public can be nerve-wracking. Ask someone with stage fright. It’s a cross between wanting to make an impression and wanting to chicken out and run. For most of us with a choice, we’d rather be members of the audience than speakers or presenters.
Henry Boettinger, in his great book Moving Mountains, says, “When you begin to think that small groups are not firing squads and big groups, not spectators at a hanging, you have passed the worst obstacles on the road to mastery.”
Presenting is like going against someone – yourself. But with knowledge, practice, and a good message, there’s no reason why you won’t be able to defeat your self-doubts.
The moment you’re standing before your audience, run……….to success!
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