Our terminology is vague, and assumes people magically know what our dichotomy means. Is a small audience where everyone can see a flipchart? Is a large audience where the speaker needs a microphone?
On November 8, 2017 at Ethos3 there was an article by Stephanie Fulton titled Public Speaking Tips for Speaking to a Large or Small Audience. She referred to a September 28, 2017 article by Anett Grant in The Business Journals titled 3 differences between speaking to large groups and small groups. Anett discussed Movement, Concentration Level, and Style. Under Style she said:
“You may think that the larger your audience is, the ‘bigger’ your style needs to be — that you need to be larger than life to grab the attention of a big crowd. In reality, the opposite is true. If you’re speaking to a large group, your style should be more personal — especially if you’re being projected onto a screen. The audience doesn’t need to be drawn to you because the camera is already giving them a close-up.”
The ‘especially’ is confusing. Back on June 16, 2010 I had blogged about how Gesture size usually should match audience size, and showed the above graphic to illustrate how projected live video changed things. On October 19, 2016 Anett had a longer, clearer Fast Company article titled 5 Speaking Habits You Need To Adjust Depending On The Size Of Your Audience.
Another dichotomy is via room sizes, like boardrooms and ballrooms. In his The Extreme Presentation Method blog back on January 16, 2008 Andrew Abela posted about Ballroom vs. Conference Room Style Presentations.
How many people can be in an audience before you need a microphone? In his 2001 book 10 Days to More Confident Public Speaking on page 63 Lenny Laskowski says that:
“…speaking to a group of more than fifty people requires a microphone and a good sound system.”
Others divide audiences into more than two groups. In an article titled Size Up Your Audience by Cliff Suttle on pages 18 to 20 of the December 2007 Toastmaster magazine he used four –
“Here’s the basic breakdown:
Talking to 10 people or fewer is a conversation.
Getting up in front of 20 people is a speech.
If there are 40 people in the audience, it’s a performance.
100 people or more is a show.”
Anthropologist Edward T. Hall used four distances to discuss different types of spaces (Proxemics), as shown above. Can we relate audience size to distance?
As shown above, we can assume that (for dense, theater seating in a square room) a person requires a 3 by 3 foot square, so the distance will be the square root of 9 times the audience size. I first discussed this in a December 7, 2008 blog post titled Audience size determines working distance and thus presentation style.
When we look at audience sizes defined by different powers of two, we can make a table relating audience size, distance, and venue name, as shown above. 21 types will cover the range of audiences from one to about a million. I first discussed this in a December 6, 2008 blog post titled Your presentation style should match both your intent and the size of your audience. Hall’s four types of spaces fit neatly into the table. Many other audience sizes don’t have venue names though.
Real venues usually are not square, may have stages, and they will offer event planners a variety of seating options. A speaker needs to check on how his room will be set up. For example, at the Riverside Hotel here in Boise the 76’ x 120’ Grand Ballroom could be set up with Theater seats for 1000, Round tables for 600, or as a Classroom for 500. The 27’ x 15’ Garnet meeting room could be set up with Theater seats for 40 or Conference seats for 20.