Motivate large audiences as easily as small ones
Presenting for large audiences may seem daunting, but it’s simply an extension of the presentation you facilitate in a small group with one caveat: audience management. I recently spoke with a group of more than 100 people about the importance of building and keeping their networks alive while in job transition. I used many tricks from The Engaging Expert: a Fieldbook for Occasional Presenters & Accidental Trainers as I prepared and delivered my keynote address.
My first challenge, of course, was to ensure that environment, materials and activities were prepared before the presentation began. My sponsor was instrumental in providing a copy of my book, Networking is a Lifetime Skill: Giving, encouraging and supporting without keeping score, and several handouts in conference bags to minimize the chaos of distributing materials during the presentation. When I began, I simply held up the material I would reference and asked the participants to find their own copies.
Here are a few more ways to optimize your presentation for a larger audience:
- Choose an appropriate layout. In order to facilitate group activities and keep participants engaged, request that your sponsor seat the audience in groups of 8 – 10 at round tables. Other layouts exist; each has unique advantages though this seems to work best for large groups.
- Transition smoothly from other speakers. Arrive early so that you can hear part of the previous speaker’s presentation. Reinforce some of that message in your introduction, boosting relevance and audience comfort. The repetition will also encourage retention of the previous speaker’s message.
- Keep people active. Adults can sit still for only 10-20 minutes before the blood starts pooling in their lower extremities, limiting oxygen sent to their brain. I used a Stand if This is You exercise from the Engaging Expert to keep my participants moving and had people confer at tables during brainstorming and application activities. Finally, they physically left their tables to simulate an actual networking event. Using the content of the entire conference, people engaged with a minimum of 2-3 participants that they hadn’t yet met.
- Use specific directions. Before beginning a group activity, give intentional directions such as, “In a moment, I’ll give groups five minutes to …” and choose a cue that signals when you want everyone’s attention again. I will sometimes flicker the lights or begin clapping when time is up. Participants complete their sentences and join me in clapping until everyone is back together. When used in the session, I always demonstrate the clapping process so that people are comfortable with their role. It also helps to assign a leader for each activity to manage the production of the smaller groups.
- Cut topics short. The Zeigarnik Effect states that people remember interrupted tasks better than completed ones. Allowing them to finish a task or decision later reinforces their ability to take action with the suggested content in the real world or, in this case, their job search.
- Repeat questions. As audience members comment or ask questions, remember that they will be impossible to hear for people sitting more than two tables away. Repetition engages everyone across the audience.
- Be flexible in managing time. The larger the group, the more opportunity there is to get sidetracked by multiple questions or when bringing people back from activities. Be prepared to minimize or even eliminate activities, allowing participants to access resources available in your handouts or other visual media.
- Use evaluations and a Call to Action. For example, ask participants to write down and share one thought for each of t