Delivering a presentation for a handful of colleagues is one thing. Presenting information to a large audience—dozens, hundreds or thousands of people at once—is another ball game altogether. The best thing presenters can do before the big day is understand the common challenges and plan accordingly. There are a number of factors to consider here, some within your direct control and some outside of it. But an extra ounce of preparation can go a long way in facilitating a smooth event for everyone involved.
Here are some frequently encountered challenges associated with presenting information to a large audience and some tips for addressing them.
Challenge #1: Nerves
The thought of standing up in front of many people can be daunting. But there is a silver lining: Oftentimes, larger audiences actually “dilute” the public speaking effect because it’s more difficult to focus on individuals. The best tool in your arsenal is preparation; you can stroll confidently onstage knowing you’ve rehearsed your material and have a good sense of its timing.
However, you can also utilize tricks like speaking to a hypothetical person in the back of the room. This simple practice will help you keep your head up, your voice projecting firmly and your attention focused on something besides the general size of your audience.
Challenge # 2: Technical Difficulties
For most speakers, it’s stressful to envision figuring out how to work accompanying technology as they go. Technical difficulties can derail a presentation quickly, which is why it’s key to use intuitive tools and know how to operate them well ahead of time. If all goes well, your audience will primarily retain the content of your presentation over the specifics of its delivery—although they will certainly remember that aspect, too.
Simplicity is your friend in this arena. For example, embedding an online poll into your presentation allows you to collect audience feedback without any clunky tech setup. Participants can vote or submit questions using their mobile phones, while presenters can set up their polls ahead of time so they’re ready to go in real time the day of the presentation.
Challenge # 3: Limited Attention Spans
Most audience members check out in less than 15 minutes during a typical presentation. This is rarely a testament to the quality of a specific presentation, but rather speaks to the fact that humans simply have a finite attention span. Furthermore, it’s all too easy to experience information overload nowadays. Presenters must be cognizant of this fact, especially during large presentations.
One Forbes contributor recalls the progression watching a “finely-tuned” presentation: The audience stayed fully engaged, even taking notes during the first 10 minutes. Leading up to the 20-minute mark, viewers started to covertly check their phones. After 30 minutes, the shuffling increased. Some audience members even got up to use the restroom.
In a large space, audience members have more freedom to fidget, check their email inboxes, look around at other participants, doze off and more. The effects of audience distraction can quickly become cumulative, causing a palpable shift in energy in the room thanks to the domino effect. This is why it’s imperative to keep your overall presentation concise, giving special consideration to structuring key takeaways in an obvious way.
If your presentation must run longer by necessity, build in breaks so your audience can reset their mental stamina and re-engage. Inserting a “palate cleanser” like a video clip, live poll or short stretching break can all help audience members refocus.
There will always be certain challenges associated with presenting information to a large audience. But understanding them ahead of time allows you to build solutions into your presentation.