Bring your audience closer to you

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I attended a low-key concert recently. The artist wasn't too well-known (at least around here) and the audience was rather small. The concert took place in a small venue, but it could easily have held twice the amount of people. And so they (or rather us, myself included) were standing around rather scattered and well away from the small stage.

The opening act did his best in warming up the audience (and mostly succeeded) but couldn't change the fact that it was too small an audience for the venue. The main act then did the right thing: When she came up on stage, she encouraged the audience to come forward to the stage and also to get closer together. I like to think that this simple measure helped us enjoy the concert even more.

This isn't the first time that a concert inspired me to think about things we can do better when presenting. Both musicians and presenters are performers (not actors, mind you). We should be ourselves, but we're there to put on a good show with our respective craft.

As a presenter, you've probably encountered a situation similar to that at this concert: You're about to speak in a room that's too large for the audience. The next time this happens, try what the musician did and ask your audience to get closer together and sit in the rows closer to the stage. You'll be surprised that people will most likely do what they're told. As the presenter, you have some amount of authority and control. Couple that with a nicely phrased request and maybe an obvious benefit (so that I don't have to shout) and people will follow it.

The benefit of getting your audience closer together, apart from practical aspects like not having to shout, is that it creates a bond between the members of your audience. When people sit closer together, it's easier for them to share their reaction or pick up the reaction of their fellow audience members.

As Garr Reynolds phrases it in his book, The Naked Presenter:

The excitement, laughter at the funny bits, and the overall connection and participation goes way up when you take a relatively small number of people in a large room and bring them closer to you.

Due to this bond, it will (assuming you're not boring them to death!) make the presentation a more enjoyable experience for your audience. And, quite frankly, it will also be easier for you as the presenter to keep a certain amount of control over them.

P.S. One more observation from the above concert: For the encore, the musician decided to step up the bonding experience and played one song amidst the audience ("unplugged", just with her guitar and voice). That was certainly a highlight of the concert.

This may not be easily reproducible with your average presentation, but I'd be interested to hear if someone actually tried this. Have you done it or seen a presenter do it?

(Photo of the aforementioned encore by yours truly. Thanks, Emily Barker for the inspiration.)

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Creative Commons Licence "Bring your audience closer to you" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.