4 Skills – and 1 Attitude – Needed to Move a Large Audience to Action
July 17, 2017 by Bill Rosenthal

There will be times in your career when you are called upon to address large groups. Maybe you’ve been invited to give the keynote address at a conference or asked to make a commencement speech. Maybe you need to sell an initiative to an entire division of the company. Can you make a connection with an audience of a hundred or more? We’ve been training people to do that for decades, and there are the four skills — and one attitude — we have found to be critical.

  1. Stance. When you’re on the stage in front of a large group, adopt a stance with the least possibility for distracting the audience from your message. That means standing to face the audience with your feet hip-width apart and distributing your weight equally between them. If you pace, shift your weight, or slouch, you create a sideshow for the audience. When you adopt a balanced stance, you offer no distractions, and you allow the audience to focus on your facial expression and your hand gestures, both of which you can use to reinforce your message.
  2. Body Language. Make expansive gestures. Use your whole arm, above the waist and away from your body. Frequent, expansive gestures allow you to emphasize and illustrate your points, and they continually refocus the audience’s attention on you. Match the gestures to what you are saying. If you want to say the trend on a graph is upward, sweep upward with your arm. If you want to say costs have to be cut, cut the air with your arm.
  3. Eye Control. As you speak, look into the eyes of an audience member. Continue to look into that person’s eyes until you have completed a thought or a sentence, pause, then move your gaze to another person’s eyes. This technique, which we call “eye control,” allows every audience member to feel you are addressing them personally.
  4. Voice. Speak forcefully to demonstrate passion, whether or not you are using a microphone. Don't worry about being too loud. You cannot be too loud without a microphone, and if you do have one, you can always turn the volume down, but don't turn it down more than you need to keep from breaking the windows with your voice.  Before the presentation, analyze recordings of your voice so you will know what your nonwords are and when you tend to use them. Then train yourself not to. Vary the tone and pitch of your voice. Match its expression to the things you are saying. 

The fifth ingredient to a successful large-audience presentation is not a skill. It’s an attitude: passion. Passion is communicable, and your goal is to infect the audience with yours. If you feel deeply about the position or point of view you’re trying to put across, let that feeling come out. The audience will perceive it and be moved. If you don’t feel deeply about your message, why are you putting yourself through the stress of giving a presentation?

This is some of what we teach in Executive Presentation Skills® and EPS Anywhere™, programs that can help you work a large audience effectively. If, for one reason or another, your employer doesn’t offer you one of these courses through the company training department, consider one of our open enrollment programs, which are being offered at a discount this summer.