Tip #88: Handling the Anxiety of Presenting to Large Audiences

Some people are very comfortable making presentations to small audiences. However, they may become anxious when they face the prospect of presenting to a very large audience. It’s the same presentation, isn’t it?- and the audience is only people, just more of them.. So, why the anxiety?

Let’s look at the obvious difference: the size of the audience. A smaller audience can seem more intimate, more accessible, and more manageable. It is also probable that you actually know or have some relationship with the members of a small audience. It may be a more informal session, with participants from your own organization. Plus, if you fall on your face, there are only a limited number of witnesses to your misery.

When we think about very large audiences, they are often filled with participants who we do not know, who are from outside our organization, and who we are most concerned about impressing. We are not just a presenter, then, but also an emissary and representative of our company. As a result, any failure as a presenter has larger ramifications, because it is no longer just a personal professional matter. In short, the consequence of error is much greater, reflecting on our company, its image and its prospects.

Given all this, why on earth would anyone want to stand up in front of a large audience? If it is a regular or occasional part of our job, it is not always a matter of our personal preference and comfort.

So, what can you do to tame your anxiety about audience size? Create a more comfortable and familiar rapport with individual members of that audience. How?

Meet as many people as possible as they enter the room. Introduce yourself, shake their hands, and ask them who they are, why they are there, and what their issues or interests are. You might want to keep a small pad and pen handy, so that you can jot down names and relevant comments or issues after you meet each person. This random sampling will also hopefully give you confidence that your presentation is of interest and on target.

If you can’t meet them as they enter the door, “work” the room so that you have established contact with folks seated in different places around the room. This way, you will have friendly faces in the audience and may even be able to weave their name or their issues or interests into your presentation.

In essence, you will have created your own small audience within the larger audience. Look at them and speak to them. Since they are seated in different locations around the room, you will have eye contact with the entire group.

If you have your own personal tricks of the trade for addressing this issue, please let us know and we’ll add them!

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