Monday, May 23

Why I hate speaking to groups of twenty

For years, I have had a pretty significant fear of public speaking. Thankfully, through blood, sweat, and tears, I have been moderately successful at resolving that. For the last several years, I have had the honor and, yes, pleasure of speaking with groups ranging from two people to many thousand.

Here is a curious observation from that.
  • I like speaking with three people, because I can customize my material to the very specific needs of the individuals.
  • When I speak to hundreds or thousands, the audience seems pretty happy (with the exception of Stephen Downes!) if I can give some useful information and perspectives, and keep them relatively entertained and motivated to go deeper. There is also a lot of energy to tap and play back.

But fifteen to twenty people in an audience is always very, very hard. It is small enough so that people feel that the presentation should be highly customized (like a one:three experience), yet there are always many groups who want to take the conversation in very different directions (high level, low level a, low level b, etc).

I will continue to play with techniques, but for now, twenty is a very lonely number.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you can break them up into 4 groups of five, have them talk amongst themselves and give them each a short related assignment and a chance to report out to one another - makes you as much a facilitator as speaker-who-kknows-all.

Clark Aldrich said...

I couldn't agree more. That is tougher in a one hour presentation than a two to five hour workship.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried joining Toastmasters? I thought I was fairly good until I joined a year ago and now I'm much more comfortable with any size group. Use the locater at toastmaster.org.to find a group. You may want to visit 2 or 3 clubs to find one with the right chemistry for you.

Clark Aldrich said...

The point is less about comfort and more about dynamics. An obvious extrapolation as well is the challenges of an instructor in front of twenty people for a day, because again the needs of different groups within the classroom can be so different.

jay said...

As one who used to be petrified by the thought of public speaking and now finds it energizing, your post grabbed my attention.

You can never speak to a group of twenty. You can only speak to one person at a time. For at least each phrase, tell it to one individual, not losing eye contact. Shift to someone else while pausing, never while speaking.

Five years ago I put together a collection of tips and trircks that have worked for me. There's a bit more here.

Frankly, Clark, I found your delivery in New Brunswick two weeks back top-notch. Look at the video of your session on the CSTD site to see what I mean.

Sunaina Maharaj said...

As a student i have to attend tutorials and lectures. tutorials generally have between 15-20 people whereas lectures have about 100+ people..and as a member of the audience..i personally think that you're right in saying that smaller groups sometimes expect very different things!

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