How do you have a conversation with 200 people at the same time? Professor Max Atkinson has the answer in his book Lend Me Your Ears.
According to Atkinson, in a typical conversation there are 2 people. When one person is speaking, the other listens intently – so they can reply sensibly. This pattern is repeated back and forth until the conversation ends.
It gets a bit more complicated with 3 or more people but generally it’s the same pattern. Atkinson calculates that the cut-off is 6 participants. After that it becomes a lot harder to have one conversation going.
Conversations keep us awake, says Atkinson, because of the pressure to respond. But an audience of 200 doesn’t have that pressure. So how do you keep them really listening and engaged?
You strategically insert moments into your presentation where they can respond.
An obvious way is to get them to laugh. Then they’ll listen for the next opportunity to chuckle.
You can use a repetitive phrase, as President Barack Obama did in his acceptance speech. The audience followed his lead and repeated ‘Yes we can’ at strategic points.
Of course an audience can show you they’re listening by clapping, cheering, booing – or leaving.
You can hope they will respond positively. Or you can plan to include them at strategic moments in your presentation. The more of these moments you have, the better your chances of having them really listening and engaged.
Atkinson has more tips for engaging the audience in his book. Pick it up. It’s a good read.
Neil Everton has distilled a lifetime’s experience with some of the world’s top news organizations into his Media Mastery training aids for anyone worried about talking to reporters. The video, books, e-books and workbooks are available in the Podium Coaching online store.