One of the more popular topics on this blog has always been the importance of choosing the right presentation style for a given situation. The essential difference between the two main presentation styles (ballroom style and conference room style) is the size of your audience and what you are trying to achieve with them. Ballroom style presentations are suitable for informing or entertaining large audiences (e.g. participants at an annual sales meeting). Conference room style presentations are best for persuading smaller audiences (e.g. a sales pitch to a client team; a funding pitch to a venture capital firm; or a proposal to senior management or the board).
But what if you want to persuade a large audience? This is actually very hard. In my ChangeThis manifesto, I wrote about how research shows that persuasion requires three things: details, interaction, and absence of distraction, and how conference room style presentations are ideal for delivering all three.
In a recent comment on this blog, Jeff Hurt wrote:
While I concur that ballroom presentations are usually to entertain, inform, impress, inspire or motivate an audience, I've seen some very skilled presenters take those ballroom presentations and turn them on their head. I've watched them use the same concepts they would use in a conference room session of 50 people and engage an audience in small group conversations, exercises and activities. Their goal is still to educate, engage and persuade an audience from awareness to action. With the advancement of mobile tools and Web 2.0 interface, I've also watched experienced and talented presenters with very large ballroom crowds engage with the audience through SMS, Twitter and other features.
Jeff is right: it can be done. But it is very hard, and it takes exceptional skill to persuade a large audience (that’s why good politicians are so rare). One approach that I have often recommended is to introduce your topic with a brief ballroom style presentation and then follow up with a conference room style one. Another is to use some of the new technologies, as Jeff mentions.
One particular new technology that can be helpful here is the online presentation design program Prezi. Prezi allows you, while following a specific storyline, to dive deep into details along the way. Here’s a good example of a Prezi presentation; this one was designed by Nick Matarese, a fifth-year Industrial & Interaction Design major at Syracuse University, who was interning at a client of mine. It’s nicely done.
I would be happy to hear about other examples of approaches to persuading large audiences.