Size Matters – Shaping Your Speech To Match Your Audience

by drjim on September 22, 2009

Speakers Need To Tailor Their Speeches To The Size Of Their Audience

Speakers Need To Tailor Their Speeches To The Size Of Their Audience

Have you ever heard the expression “one size fits all“? I’m not sure what this phrase was invented to describe, but I can tell you that it sure wasn’t public speaking. Something that too many public speakers don’t realize is that you need to create different speeches for different size audiences. There is no such thing as the one-size-fits-all speech.

Types Of Audiences

One of the first questions that has to be answered is just how many different size audiences are there out there? Cliff Suttle has taken a look at this and he believes that there are four different common audience sizes:

  • Conversation Size: an audience of up to 10 people.
  • Speech Size: an audience of 10-40 people.
  • Performance Size: an audience of 40-100 people.
  • Show Size: an audience of 100 or more people

The reason that the size of your audience matters is because you need to tune your speech to meet the needs of that size audience. Just as a clown at a birthday party does different things to entertain its audience from what a comedian at a nightclub does, so to does a public speaker need to make changes to suit the size of his/her audience.

How To Match Your Speech To Your Audience’s Size

Once you know how large of an audience you’ll be talking to, you can adjust your speech to best match the needs of that audience. You’ll have to take a different approach for each type of audience:

  • Conversation Size: the key to satisfying this type of audience is to NOT deliver a formal speech. Instead what you want do is to have an intimate conversation with them. You’ll need to be able to be flexible in order to adjust your speech to meet the changing moods of your audience.
  • Speech Size: the audience size is still small enough that you are going to be able to use a conversational tone, but you are going to have prepare and deliver a formal speech. Eye contact becomes very important and you need to make hand gestures in order to include everyone in you speech.
  • Performance Size: for this type of speech, taking the time to memorize your speech can be a big help because it will free you up to focus on HOW you say it. You are going to have to speed up the eye contact and not spend too much time looking at any one person. If you make your audience laugh, be sure to give the entire audience time to laugh before you start speaking again.
  • Show Size: One of the most important points about speaking to a large audience has nothing to do with your words – it’s all about self-confidence. Being confidant and taking and owning the stage are critical parts of winning a large audience over to your side. There will no longer be an opportunity to make eye contact with individuals in the audience, instead you’ll have to look at sections of the audience in such a way that they all feel as though you are looking at them individually. Your use of vocal variety becomes critical to keeping your audience engaged in your speech.

Final Thoughts

All too often when we are asked to give a speech we will spend all of our time thinking about the speech and not spend any time thinking about the audience. All audiences are not created the same. We need to tailor our speeches to meet the needs of the size audience that we are addressing.

When preparing a speech always plan for the big show. Then spend some extra time scaling it down to match your audience. This way you’ll have a back up plan if more people happen to show up.

Learn to do this well and you’ll be able to intimately connect with your audience and make an lasting impact in their lives.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard I. Garber September 22, 2009 at 10:30 am

Jim:

Nice post. More complete links to Cliff Suttle’s article are:
http://www.toastmasters.org/ToastmastersMagazine/ToastmasterArchive/2007/December/SizeUpYourAudience.aspx

and for the Acrobat file version:
http://www.cliffsuttle.com/articles/SizeUpYourAudience-Suttle.pdf

I think there really are many more audience sizes and distances to consider.

See the four posts under the audience size label on my blog:
http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/search/label/audience%20size

Richard Garber

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Dr. Jim Anderson September 26, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Richard: Thanks for taking the time to provide the links!

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Legalees October 29, 2009 at 12:34 pm

I am a professional speaker who speaks for free and sells. I agree that size matters, but I also believe that the speech so be memorized and not vary too much

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Dr. Jim Anderson October 30, 2009 at 10:43 am

Legalees: Ahh, but then you’ve missed my point here — you DO need to change your speech to match your audience’s size. I suspect that you feel most comfortable when you have memorized your speech, that’s really no problem. I would suggest that you create three separate speeches that are all pretty much that same; however, tailor them to the size of your audience: small, medium, and large. This way you can have the best of both worlds…!

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Vincent Msachi February 9, 2017 at 6:51 am

Its a good post.It is well understood and clear.

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