It recently occurred to me that, from a certain perspective — that of your audience — there’s no such thing as a big crowd.
From your point of view as a presenter, it looks like you’re talking to a lot of people. Most of us, when we speak to a group, are acutely aware of whether that group comprises 10, 100, or 1000 individuals. And most of us experience greater anxiety as the number of warm bodies mounts.
But from your audience’s perspective, this is an illusion.
Why? Because, no matter how many people are sitting in a room, each one of them experiences your presentation as if it’s being delivered to him or her alone.
- Each person hears you separately.
- Each person reacts to you individually.
- And each person is actively responding to the points you make in the privacy of his or her own thoughts.
In other words, every person you’re speaking to feels that they are an audience of 1.
To Stop Seeing a “Big Audience” and Speak More Conversationally, Look at a Few of the Individuals in Your Audience
The benefits of switching from your viewpoint to the audience’s are clear: Most of us find it easier to speak to one person than to a crowd. We’re less anxious, and speak more casually, more naturally, with more immediacy.
But how do you get there? How do you adopt the audience’s point of view.
My best tip for flipping this switch in your mind is to look at them. Really look at your audience.
What you’ll see, when you meet one person’s eyes, is that they are one person. You’ll see the truth of what I’ve said above: That they’re seeing you, hearing your words, reacting to your thoughts, as an individual.
Now look at another person. Same thing!
See? You are really only speaking to one person, no matter the number of bodies in front of you.
Relax. Focus on your audience of one. And have a nice chat.
Use This Handout to Practice Making Eye Contact with Audience Members
It takes a little practice to meet someone’s eyes and talk straight to them when there are other people in the room, because you may feel like you’re “ignoring” others.
In fact, the opposite is true!
- If you try to look at everyone in the room, your eyes will appear to be sweeping the crowd without seeing anyone, and people will feel that you’re avoiding eye contact;
- But when you make eye contact with one audience member and speak directly to that individual , everyone else in the room will feel that you are also talking directly to them.
Don’t believe me? Use this handout to build your ability to make eye contact with individual members of your audience, and then test it out for yourself! Just:
- Print the handout (in color, if possible)
- Cut out the four sets of eyes
- Tape them up to different areas of your public speaking practice space
- Practice speaking your first complete thought to one “person” (set of eyes), your next thought to someone in a different section of the “audience” (room), etc.
This Small Exercise in Seeing One Member of Your Audience has a Big Pay-Off
As with so many aspects of public speaking, a small amount of repeated effort will gradually transform your skills and confidence.
So every time you try this exercise, make yourself hold eye contact with just one pair of eyes for a little bit longer than is comfortable.
Doing this will expand the boundaries of your comfort zone, and pretty soon you’ll lose your self-consciousness about speaking to just one person.
As soon as you’re able to truly speak to just one person, you’ll realize that your audience is truly just a group of individuals.
At that point, the number of individuals in your audience will stop mattering, because you’ll realize that there’s no such thing as a big audience!