Size Matters

Size MattersThere’s an old story about a young preacher newly installed at a small rural church. One Wednesday a snowstorm blew in and blanketed the small town. Living in the parsonage next door the pastor dutifully trudged to the church for the Wednesday evening service, expecting to find it empty. To his surprise an old farmer and faithful member of the congregation was seated in his usual spot in the front pew. Having never encountered a situation where the congregation consisted of only one person the young pastor asked the old farmer what he should do. The farmer replied, “Well, Pastor, I’ve been farming a long time and I’ve taken care of many a cow. I can tell you that when even one of them cows shows up in my barn I still feed her.”

Thus encouraged the pastor proceeded with the service. He followed the entire liturgy to the letter, sang each song with gusto (a Capella, of course) and preached his full sermon from the pulpit. When the service was over he stepped down to shake the old farmer’s hand and asked, “How did I do?” To which the farmer replied, “When that one cow shows up I feed her, but I don’t give her the whole bale!”

As a presenter you must be prepared to adjust your presentation to the size of your audience. I’ve prepared workshop presentations expecting thirty or more participants only to have six show up. In that case the plan to break into small discussion groups or open with an activity with several teams just won’t work. There’s a difference in how you speak to a group of eight and how you speak to a group of one thousand and eight. When it comes to audience engagement, size matters. Your presentation planning must take into account the anticipated size of the audience. You can get an audience of fifty or a thousand or more talking to each other with certain techniques and you can regain their attention (more about these techniques in future posts). But pulling direct feedback about those discussion from an audience of fifty takes a different approach than for the audience of a thousand. It can be done in both circumstances but the size of the audience dictates how you do it.

There are certain subtleties of movement a small group of twelve will catch that will be lost on a crowd of three hundred. The best presenters adjust their style according to the size of their audience. Consider how you behave differently in front of different sized audiences. If you haven’t already, be consciously aware of tailoring your presentations to fit the size of your audience. It communicates to them that you care about them personally and you’re not just giving them the whole bale!

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