Presenting to Small vs Large Audiences.

j0402960Note: all of the comments in this  article are also applicable to trainers.

As a regular part of our job, we are expected to present to audience of different sizes that might range from a “mini-group” of 1-2 people up to hundreds or even thousands of people. It appears that some people tend to treat their audience in difference ways depending upon the size of the audience.

I would propose that it is more efficient to follow one simple set of procedures when dealing with a group on any size.

I shall examine the characteristics of the two group sizes and then suggest ways to ensure that the message that is being sent by the presenter is the same message that arrives in the subconscious mind of the audience.

Characteristics of small groups:
– There often appears to be confusion about the purpose of the activity: Some people seem to think that they are attending a meeting (possibly with slides) while others believe there will be an actual presentation. Since these are two totally different communicative activities, the norms, expectations and behaviour of both the presenter and the audience are different in each one. If the purpose of the activity is not clearly known by the audience beforehand, problems could ensue.

– Group sizes tend to be less than 12 people which has various implications for how we handle the event. It appear that the bigger the group, the easier it is to control the audience members.

– If the attendees have been “invited” to attend the event instead of being sent by their boss, they often tend to be more motivated and interested in the topic. However this motivation can often cause them to try to participate more to show their interest!

– The audience members expect the presenter to be “one of them” and validated either by professional status / qualifications, title / position in the organization, etc. This expectation could lead to the attendees adopting an informal attitude to the activity which can be shown in many different ways. Some of which are; using smart phones, tablets or laptops during the activity; having parallel conversations; leaving & reentering the room, having off-topic discussions and so forth. We recommend that the participants are asked to remove all electronic devices from the tables until the meeting / presentation is over.

– Frequently there appear to be various “Decision-makers” in the group which implies that they are possibly knowledgeable about the topic being presented and therefore want to share their knowledge, experience and opinions with others attendees and, on occasions, drive the decisions made in a certain direction. Frequently, these people think that they have the “right” or “duty” to interrupt the presenter just because of who they are. The do not consider the adverse effects of their intervention: The presentation lasts much longer than planned; the presentation gets sidetracked to other topics; the audience get bored and disconnect, and so on.

To avoid this problem we recommend that the newest / youngest members of the audience contribute their ideas first and then the older, more experienced attendees make their contributions with the Meeting Owner being the last person to make their comments / contribution.

– There are occasions when there is a “Presentation Pirate” present: someone who thinks that they should be doing the presentation; they know more than the presenter; they want to score points in front of the group or have a hidden agenda which they want to play out. We recommend that this type of person is dealt with via the use of  a range of “man management” techniques such as “echoic responses”; relevancy challenges; “Speaker shifts”, etc.

– Many attendees want to actively participate in the development of the activity which results in there being changes which turn the presentation into a discussion and can mean that the presenter loses control of the activity; the “presentation” lasts much longer than planned; the communicative objectives of the presenter are not reached and the professional image of the presenter may be damaged.

– In summary, the lack of a formal statement about expected norms of behaviour can make it difficult for the presenter to control the group – especially if the presenter is not properly trained in “man-management” techniques. All too often the presentation / meeting turns into “Anarchy” where everyone ends up doing whatever they feel like -except participate actively in the event!

Recommended responses with small groups – “Prevention is better than cure”:
– Provide a written guide to expected “norms of behaviour” before the event.
– Use Man-management techniques such as “echoic responses”, etc.

Characteristics of Large groups: large group in auditorium
– There is usually a wide range of knowledge / training / interest /motivation about the subject.
– Normally, the group size is limited by the size of the presentation site.
– There tends to be a tacit acceptance of the standard norms of behaviour for groups of this size.
– The audience expect to have little participation.
– The audience often expect presenter to be “distant” both literally and psychologically.
– They generally expect a “Q & A” session at the end of the presentation.
– Usually they expect informative content.

Once the speaker / presenter can get over the fact that there are a large number of people looking at them and expecting to be either entertained, educated or bored-to-death, they are actually much easier to work with than smaller groups!

Some suggestions for dealing elegantly & effectively with ALL groups irrespective of size.

Always Stand up to Present:
Reasons for NOT presenting while sitting down:
1. When seated, your body produces less adrenalin = less authoritarian tone of voice.
2. Your energy level goes down = the communication is less “animated” & interesting.
3. Your low energy level can be felt by, and subconsciously affects, the audience.
4. When seated it is more difficult to direct your message & energy at the “Power” & the influence(s) = they are blocked by the furniture:
5. The topic becomes “heavy”, more “serious” and less memorable.
6. The audience do NOT have to “look up” at you. This place them in a position of “equality”.
7. When standing your become the professor / Teacher/ Specialist” = more power & control.
8. Sitting often leads to deviations or side-tracking from the original topic.
9. Sitting often leads to excessive questions and interruptions.
10. Your Non Verbal communication becomes more restricted & constrained.
11. You stop being a presenter and often become a mere “computer operator”.
12. Frequently you pay more attention to the computer & your notes than to the audience.
13. Often you are perceived subconsciously as being “entrenched” or defensive.
14 Overall the communication is perceived as LESS convincing, interesting & memorable.

Present from beside the screen.
The following article deals with a closely related topic:
“What is Spatial Anchoring in Presentations and Training?” Short link:

If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten! (NLP Presupposition) Get out of your comfort zone, do something new and watch the reaction!
For more practical information about how to present elegantly and effectively, visit my BLOG:

© Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & associates, S.L., Madrid, Spain. 1st July, 2015


About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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