Tips for Presenting to Large Audiences

Image - Microphone

I feel proud and very privileged to have recently had the opportunity to attend a 5 day entrepreneurial bootcamp with Entrepreneurial Spark, an organisation where start-up and early stage businesses are hot-housed, nurtured and enabled in an intensive 5 month business accelerator programme.

The bootcamp schedule covered topics such as being an entrepreneurial leader, emotional intelligence and self-awareness, knowing your customer, strategic analysis, creating a value proposition, finance, funding, growth, legal considerations, marketing, selling, pitching, design thinking and building a team. It was intense, informative and inspirational and I’m grateful to have had the chance to attend.

Throughout the week, a number of presenters took to the stage with varying levels of success in terms of engaging the 150 strong audience and delivering their message effectively so I thought I’d take a moment to consider what did and didn’t work.

Venue

The event was held at a central location that was easy for people to get to. The room was large enough to comfortably hold 150 people and the café style set up (around tables) was ideal for encouraging interaction between participants during activities and breaks. There was loads of natural daylight which helps with concentration and the doors were open to let in fresh air (although this meant some external noise was heard and sometimes at inopportune moments!) The screen could be seen from most areas of the room, although the positioning of the lectern made this challenging from a few of the tables at one side of the room.

Tip – check the set-up of the room to ensure that the stage, presenter and visual aids can be seen from all seats.

Preparation

It was clear from the beginning that a lot of preparation had gone into the event and each individual presentation. Most speakers came across as confident and well prepared. There were inevitably some technical issues but these were quickly dealt with by the able support team and didn’t greatly impact on the overall sessions. However, some presenters were less prepared and one in particular made the fundamental mistake of not researching the audience; therefore, he was thrown by the number of attendees and his presentation missed the mark.

Tip – as part of your preparation, ask as many questions as possible about the audience, their level of knowledge, the objective of the session, the venue, the set up, etc.

Equipment

The technical issues were mainly around the visuals being projected onto the screen; however, there were also some issues with microphones as the lapel mic was being used by different speakers. Ideally your presentation should not start with the words ‘Can everyone hear me?’ as this completely waters down your carefully prepared attention-grabbing opening. But it is important that you are heard so in this situation perhaps that was necessary.

Tip – aim to check all equipment before you are standing in front of the audience.

Visual Aids

Visual aids such as slides and video clips were used to mostly good effect throughout the week but there were some exceptions. The use of visual aids should be tailored to the event so once again, do your research. How will the room be set up? How large is the room? How many people will be in attendance? Will they be able to see you and the screen? If you are using PowerPoint or another programme, use images rather than words. If you must use words, use very few and ensure that they key message is not at the bottom of the slide as it is often more difficult for the audience to see if they have people in front of them. And rather than projecting something onto the screen that no one will be able to read, consider an alternative visual aid such as a printed handout.

Tip – think carefully about your visual aids and ensure they enhance rather than detract from your presentation.

Delivery

Each of the presenters at the Entrepreneurial Spark event had a slightly different style of delivery. When presenting it is important to utilize the key elements of effective speech delivery; however, there are a few additional points to be aware of when speaking to large audiences so here is a summary of dos and don’ts both for large events and general speech delivery:

Do

  • Show your passion, enthusiasm and energy
  • Project your voice and use vocal variety for interest and to enhance your message
  • Read the audience and adjust your approach as necessary rather than lumbering along oblivious to the fact that your audience has lost interest
  • Consider the attention span of the audience and vary your approach at least every 10-20 minutes (show a video, introduce an activity, ask questions)
  • Help the audience retain information by making the session interactive and getting them to ‘do’ something rather than talking at them
  • Move about the audience where appropriate, but move with purpose rather than meandering (being careful not to circle and make them dizzy!)
  • Own the room and exhibit confidence, focus and knowledge
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare
  • Practice, practice, practice

Don’t

  • Go over time (it is disrespectful to the audience, the organisers and other presenters who may have to cut short their presentation)
  • Stand between the projector and the screen as the image will display on your body
  • Speak too quickly
  • Assume all of your audience understands what you’re talking about
  • Provide too much detail; your speech should be appropriate for the audience member with the least knowledge about the subject
  • Be too small with your body language (but be careful not to overcompensate with enormous and unrealistic gestures)
  • Allow yourself to get off topic with individual questions; stay focused and bring any questions back to reinforce your main points
  • Be offended if people seem to be distracted by their gadgets – nowadays people are keen to tweet relevant comments or take notes on electronic devices; just observe and adjust your approach if you seem to be losing the entire audience

Always remember that speaking to a large audience is a privilege and an honour. It may have additional challenges; however, as with all presentations, the key to success is to thoroughly research and prepare for whatever event you are speaking at. Do you have any additional tips for presenting to large audiences? If so, please do share your thoughts with our readers in the comments section.

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