Did you know that more people are afraid to stand in front of a group and give a speech than they are afraid to die? As weird as that sounds, it’s absolutely true. Most of us fear death less than giving a public presentation.
And to make matters worse, sometimes we have to give presentations in front of very large audiences of hundreds or even thousands of people. But the truth is, whether we’re speaking to a dozen people or twelve hundred people, there is really nothing to fear. The audience is always on your side. They want you to succeed because they want to learn from you. As long as you are speaking about something you know well and are passionate about, there is nothing to fear.
Having said that, there are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to speaking in front of larger audiences. Let’s cover the don’ts first.
As we already discussed, it’s natural to feel a little fearful when giving a presentation, particularly to a large crowd. And, when we are feeling tense and stressed, we naturally speak at a faster pace than when we are calm.
But, while a small room of only a handful of people may be able to understand fast talk, it’s not as easy to do so in larger spaces with sound systems and echoes. Try to talk at a pace that feels unnatural to you and you should be speaking at just… the… right… pace for a large room and audience.
When we feel nervous, we want to warn the audience that we may tank. Don’t apologize for your nerves. Even if you try and make it come across as a joke, it will only make the audience question your authority, experience and confidence.
Discuss the Q&A Upfront
Imagine if you went to a movie and it started by telling you, “This movie will be finished in 82 minutes and then we’ll roll a bunch of credits.” You’d feel let down. When the lights dim, you want to be captivated by the story, by action and adventure or laughs, you don’t want to be reminded that the movie will be over before you know it.
By the same token, your audience doesn’t want you to start your presentation by saying, “I will speak for 10 minutes and then I’ll take questions.” What a let-down. Especially if you are supposed to speak for half an hour. Be prepared to speak for the majority of the time and if there is still time when you are done, then take questions.
Trying to craft a speech without knowing your audience is like trying to build a bridge without knowing where traffic needs to go. If you don’t know who you are speaking to – how can you possibly share relevant information that will help them in some way? No matter how prepared you are or how well your speech goes, if your audience is thinking, “Yeah, but how is this relevant to me?” you didn’t do your job.
Read Your Speech
Depending on the venue and technology on hand, you may be offered a chance to read a script off of a teleprompter. Or, you may just decide to write your main talking points on cards and read from a podium. This is bad, really bad.
Your audience traveled to hear a speaker speak to them and share ideas. If you’re going to read, why not just email the attendees the script and you can all stay home?
Practice your speech. Don’t try and memorize it, but know your points and how the information needs to flow. Just speak naturally.
And now the DO’s…
Explore the Venue
It’s easy to show up in a conference room and speak to 10 people. But speaking in a venue with stadium seating and a large stage? You’re going to need to do sound checks and make sure you can be seen and heard by the entire audience. If you feel there is too much space between you up there on the stage and the audience, talk to handlers and take the speech to the aisles if necessary.
Speaking in front of a large audience can feel like speaking in front of 400 strangers – and that can feel daunting. If you have an opportunity to meet some of the audience members beforehand, take advantage of it. This is a great way to make new friends and feel more relaxed when you see friendly faces in the audience.
Get the Audience Involved
Standing in front of a large audience can often make you feel like an actor giving one long monologue. And that can feel lonely and isolating.
Try and get your audience involved. Ask questions and have people raise their hands. Call on a few people and speak directly to them. Try to close the psychological gap between you and “them.”
Speaking in front of large audiences doesn’t have to feel daunting. If you are passionate about sharing your knowledge and follow these guidelines, you can be a stunning success no matter the size of the crowd.