There comes a time in every public speaker’s career when attendance at his presentation is less than what he thought it would be. Through no fault of his own, people just don’t show up. He looks out into the audience and sees a few people scattered all over the hall, leaving vast swaths of empty chairs between them. What can you do if you’re faced with this situation? There are three ways to address this problem.
Solution #1: Ignore it
Sure, you could soldier on, ignoring the problem and continuing with your speech as if you had a full house. But that would be a mistake. A sparsely attended presentation gives the wrong impression of you. People might look in on you and say to themselves “Eh, he’s not too popular, is he?” It’s like when you’re the only one eating at a restaurant. The energy is low, the waiters are staring at you, and you feel uncomfortable. Who wants to eat there? Nobody, that’s who. It’s the same at a presentation like this. And when people leave during the presentation for whatever reason, it’s going to look really bad. People can easily slip out because there’s nobody sitting next to them. Pretty soon, you see that you’re presenting to just one person. No fun.
Solution #2: Stomp out like a big baby
Google Executive Scott Jenson sent out a coy tweet inviting himself to speak at the Internet of Things Expo, held in San Francisco earlier this month. His request was granted and he landed a spot as the keynote speaker. But when he arrived at the venue and learned that there were only about 50 attendees, he got miffed. “I am Google,” Scott Jenson told a woman working at the registration booth. “I do not speak to small groups.” And with that, the self-invited keynote speaker turned around and left the building. Thirty minutes before go time. Nice.
Although many of us would like to do that sometimes, hopefully you realize what an insane decision this would be. Not only is it a jerky thing to do, you could be committing career suicide if word gets out.
Solution #3: Rearrange the seating
The best solution to the problem of too many seats and not enough people is to change the seating. If you learn in advance that only 20 people have signed up for a room that seats 50 people, work with the event organizer to have the extra seats removed before your presentation. Or you can do like Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion does, and have people sit closer to each other.
Marcus was speaking at a poorly attended event. People were scattered across five sections in a large hall, leaving lots of empty seats between them. At the beginning of his presentation, he told the audience that for “five minutes of pain” he promised them a quality experience. The “pain” was that he asked everybody to move to the center two sections in the hall. It was disruptive, causing more than a few grumbles as people packed up their bags, laptops, and coffee and reluctantly found new seats.
But when the audience were seated close together, the energy in the room changed. The random people became a group, united in their proximity. Marcus could focus his attention on this smaller group more effectively, and the people had a shared sense of camaraderie and of being active participants. Their five minutes of pain generated great results. Marcus killed it.
Have you ever had to present to a less-than-packed house? What did you do about it and how did it go?