Saturday, December 6, 2008

Your presentation style should match both your intent and the size of your audience

This January, on his Extreme Presentation Method blog, Professor Andrew V. Abela discussed the difference between TWO presentation idioms. One he calls a ballroom style presentation, and the other a conference room style presentation.

He said that a ballroom style presentation is used when the objective is to inform, impress, or entertain the audience. The information flow is primarily one way (from presenter to audience). The audience is typically in a dark hotel ballroom. More generally the audience size could range from a few dozen people to several thousand. PowerPoint slides typically are the medium used.

In contrast, a conference room style presentation is used when the objective is to engage and persuade your audience to change their behavior. The information flow is a two-way interchange between presenter and audience. The audience is typically in a well-lit, small conference room. The audience size could range from 2 to 25 people. Written handouts typically are the medium used.

Two years ago he described this distinction in a magazine article on how to Achieve Impact Through Persuasive Presentation Design. He shows a nice table comparing the two idioms.

In September he detailed both idioms in a 17-page Change This manifesto entitled Presenting to Small Audiences(switch off the projector).

On November 5, in his Slides that Stick blog, Jan Schultink instead described THREE distinct presentation scenarios (and desired levels of detail): the Keynote (large), the Pitch (medium) and the Meeting (small). (Jan showed a matrix which also distinguished three styles for where the media are used without the presence of a presenter).

An article by Cliff Suttle on how to Size Up Your Audience appeared in the December 2007 issue of Toastmaster magazine. Mr. Suttle distinguished FOUR different delivery styles for different audience sizes:

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.

Are there TWO, or THREE, or FOUR different styles? I suspect there actually are many MORE. Most of us do not frequently encounter a large range of venues with vastly different audience sizes.

For audience sizes ranging from one to about a million, the following table shows we might distinguish a spectrum with twenty distinctly different optimum styles (as described by a series of powers of two). The first column shows the exponent, E, the second the resulting audience size, and the third a typical presentation venue.

E, audience size, and a typical venue
0 - 1
1 - 2
2 - 4
3 - 8 = a conversation in part of a room
4 - 16
5 - 32 = a school classroom
6 - 64
7 - 128 = a university lecture hall
8 - 256
9 – 512 = an auditorium, or theater
10 - 1,024
11 - 2,048 = an opera house
12 - 4,096
13 - 8,192
14 - 16,384
15 - 32,768 = a basketball arena
16 - 65,536
17 - 131,072 = a football stadium
18 - 262,144 = the Indianapolis 500, or a NASCAR race
19 - 524,288
20 - 1,048,576

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