Audience Size and the Ego

My talk last night went very well, despite an audience of three people. It was a very interesting experience. I have been on the hosting side of small talks, and well, it’s scary. It’s upsetting to know that a person has put so much effort into building and preparing a talk, and no-one shows. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot you can do, save for run around outside and try to force people to come in.

As the presenter, it is an excellent exercise in humility and really figuring out your audience and your goals. Every person in your audience is important – no matter who they are or how many people are there. It is your job as the presenter to make sure that everyone is welcome and gets something out of the talk.

My gauge for audience enjoyment/learning is being observant of the types of questions they ask at the end of the talk. Firstly, do they leave immediately? If they stay, are the questions on topic? Do the questions expand prior knowledge or gaps that you may have left?

When questions are on topic and scaffold from what you already talked about, this showcases that they have been thinking during the talk, and are curious about the topic. Hooray! When you have a small audience, this type of careful reflection on each audience member is very easy to do. You can measure each person’s journey through the talk, and learn about how effective of a presenter you were.

In this talk, I learned:

  • My video was too long
  • Small audiences don’t necessarily want to shout out answers. This makes sense to me.
  • I looked up one fact I knew someone was going to ask me about, and then promptly forgot. It was asked, and I said I didn’t know, and the world did not explode.
  • Props and experiments go over well with people of all ages.
  • My talk was a good length, and I was able to hold attention for the entire time.
  • As engaging as beavers are, there were more questions about mosses and people – go figure!

This was a great, reflective, learning experience for me. Of course I was disappointed in the turnout, but, sometimes you need to be ready for what life throws you. I’ve been able to pick out the positive from a potentially ego-smashing experience. It was humbling in a great way, and was a very effective tool for working on my communication skills.

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