Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Speaking to a large audience

Next Tuesday Paula will be doing a talk about her ‘writing career’ to between 160 and 200 people. Eeek!

I’ve done several talks during the past two or three years, sometimes to groups I know, other times to groups where I only knew a couple of people, but these groups haven’t been more than about 30.

Having said that, I’ve had plenty of experiences in the past of addressing large audiences. On several occasions, I’ve given formal speeches or reports in a room or hall of 200+ people, but that basically involved reading a speech I’d printed out beforehand. When I was teaching, I often used to address a school hall full of teenagers (about 400 of them), either to give them information or instructions, but that was fairly easy to do (the phrase ‘captive audience’ springs to mind!). I even ‘opened’ an International Girl Guide camp once with over 1,000 girls and leaders, using only a few notes scribbled a scrap of paper. I’ve also spoken ‘off the cuff’ many times to County or District Girl Guide groups.

So it’s not as if I haven’t ever spoken to a large audience before, and I'm aware of some of the techniques, like imagining you're talking to a couple of people in the audience, rather than trying to address them all, and making eye contact with some of the audience too. I know how to pace a talk (without gabbling!), I know how to vary my voice tone, and I know how to add humour (hopefully in the right places).  One piece of advice I've heard is to imagine your audience sitting there naked - which I've never understood, so I won't go there!

Obviously, speaking to a large group is very different from talking to a small group. The latter is re like a ‘fireside chat’ where I can be relaxed and simply talk to the group informally, rather like I would talk to a friend. I don’t have any problems with this. However, speaking to a large group demands a different approach, because you have to find the balance between the formal speech and the informal chat. I don’t want to ‘read’ my talk, which is why I won’t write it out verbatim. At the same time, I know the cards I’ve used for my other talks, with brief bullet points to remind me of what I want to include, won’t be sufficient for this talk to a larger audience. I’m trying to find the happy medium, and am fairly confident I will find it.

There are, however, two things that make me nervous: 

First, I shall have to cope with technology! Evidently I shall have a radio mike, and I shall also be using my laptop connected to a projector. In my small group talks, I’ve been able to hold up print-outs of photographs, or copies of my books, but that won’t work with a large audience. The people at the back of the hall wouldn’t be able to see those, so I spent a whole day last week creating a ‘Power Point’ presentation of pictures I want to use, ranging from my favourite childhood books to my current novels, and various other photos too. This means I’ll have to remember when to click the remote for the next picture – and hope nothing goes wrong with any of the equipment. I've already had 3 trial runs with the laptop and projector - and shall probably have 3 more before next Tuesday!

Second, this talk is different from those I’ve done in the past to large audiences, because this is about me! Can I keep all those people interested in ‘me’ for 40 or 45 minutes? Or are they going to fall asleep after 5 minutes? I hope not – but I’ll let you know how it goes!

P.S I dreamt last night that only 6 people turned up for my talk LOL!


  1. Paula,

    You'll be wonderful! It sounds like you have the right mind set.

    I do have to agree with you on the technology. When I give presentations at conferences, I still tend to do it the 'old fashioned' way with handouts rather than a Power Point. One of these days I'll have to get brave!

    Good luck! Can't wait to hear how it went...

    1. Thank, Debra. I've used Power Point in the past, and it's very easy to create a presentation! You either upload a picture or type out text. Challenge yourself to have a go!

  2. You'll be great! Not to worry. If I can do it, you can.

    1. Thanks, Jen. It's mainly the setting-up of the technology that worries me, as it's a venue I've never visited before.

  3. So your question is--are you interesting?
    I think so. You've done some amazing things. Only amazing people dp amazing things.

    1. LOL, Ana, thanks! At least my 'writing career' goes back 50+ years, so I have plenty to talk about!