Recently I was in Dallas, TX speaking to 10,000 people at a Young Living Convention. That’s an intimidating amount of people, but five lessons I’ve learned over the years helped me deliver the speech. Here they are:
1. Speak to a person, not a crowd.
No one wants to feel like they’re a part of a big glob of an audience. One person speaking to ten thousand people is hard, but one person speaking to one person is a lot easier.
I always try to find one person in the crowd who is happy and engaged. It’s so easy to find (and focus on) the one person who hates every word you’re saying. Public speakers tend to have laser vision for the guy in the room with his arms crossed and a scowl. Instead, find the one person who’s locked in on the conversation and speak to them. When you do that, your talk feels less like a lecture and more like a conversation, and everyone wins.
2. Be careful to not be subtle.
As the size of your audience grows, so too should the way you express yourself on stage. This is a tip I learned from my friends Tripp & Tyler, who have spent a lot of time on big stages making people laugh. They warned me that subtle jokes and subtle movements don’t always play to a larger crowd because you’re communicating with the first row AND the last row, no matter how far from the stage it is.
The dynamics shift with big crowds, so be careful to avoid subtleties as your audience grows. If you’re speaking to 10 people, make sure you don’t act like you’re speaking to 10,000. It’s always awkward when a speaker yells like he or she is in a stadium if there’s only a few people in the room. In those situations I’ll often circle a few chairs and sit down for the talk instead. If the event is intimate, acknowledge that.
3. Allow time for the crowd to laugh and think.
If you prepare 45 minutes of material for a 45-minute talk for a larger crowd, you might run out of time with ten minutes of material left. The problem is, you didn’t account for the crowd.
The crowd will laugh, and they need time to laugh. The crowd will think, and they need time to think. If you ask the crowd a question, give them a moment to actually answer it.
Planning an event is hard. Honor the event planner’s schedule by preparing a talk that’s slightly shorter than your window to account for the crowd.
4. Laugh or move on if you make a mistake.
There are two types of mistakes you make when you speak. There’s the mistake that’s big enough that it’s funny, and you should sit on it for a minute and enjoy it with the crowd. That happened to me at the Orange Conference. I said something that was accidentally inappropriate in front of 6,000 people. I heard a few start laughing so I decided to ride the wave of the mistake and laugh along. It ended up being the biggest laugh I got during my speech.
The more common mistake is the small one you just move on from because it’s so inconsequential. If it’s a minor mistake don’t call attention to it. Just move on, more than likely the crowd didn’t even notice.
5. Have fun.
I know, I know, this is so cliche, but that doesn’t mean it’s false.
If you’re not up there on stage having fun, the crowd’s not gonna have fun either. If you’re wound up, the crowd won’t be relaxed. If you’re racing through your notes, the crowd will feel that too.
I get nervous when talking to big crowds like everyone else, but the times when I have the most fun on stage are the times where the audience does as well.
You might never become a public speaker, but you’ll speak in front of a crowd at some point. You’ll present a college paper, deliver a project at work or make a speech at a wedding. Remember these tips for when do and you’ll have a great time, whether it’s 10,000 people or 10.
P.S. If you want to become better at public speaking or anything else, do the note card exercise on page 93 of my book Do Over.