If you really want to know how much energy it takes to reach your audience, here’s a way of testing it. Get someone you trust to stand as far away from you as possible in as large a room as possible. Ask them to spend just a minute or so telling you about their absolute passion – anything from football, to the best holiday they’ve ever had, to the proudest moment of their childhood. The subject doesn’t matter, as long as they can genuinely enthuse about it for a minute or so.
Throughout what they say, ask them to make sure their hands just hang at their sides. Not folded or clasped or clenched – just hanging loosely, and if at any moment they begin to move their hands at all, ask them to stop it, and then to carry on as at first.
Notice, as they do this, how engaged you feel in what they’re saying. Close your eyes for a few seconds and listen just to their voice. How much variety can you hear? How engaging is it to listen to? Open your eyes as they continue, and look at their body. What is happening to their energy? And what is happening to your own energy as a result?
The chances are it’s sagging, both in your friend, and in you. The chances are that your friend’s voice is becoming monotonous; perhaps quite hard to hear. The chances are that you’re losing interest in what they have to say. And they themselves are quite possibly finding it hard to continue, because they are also losing interest. Yet this is supposedly about their passion!
Now ask them to repeat what they just talked about – but this time making huge, continuous, gestures with their hands and arms raised from the shoulders, so that their elbows come well away from the body. The whole point is that this should be way too much, just to find out how much of a contrast it creates. So it will probably feel, and look, highly unnatural. But there’s a serious point to this, so don’t laugh at them - and discourage them from laughing at themselves. Get them to keep it going. And close your eyes to listen.
What’s the voice doing now? More variety? More volume? More energy? Open your eyes and watch them. How engaged do you feel now? Is it more exciting to watch? More truly passionate? Is there more animation visible in their face now? More energy in their whole being?
Finally, ask them to speak again, this time using gesture in a way that splits the difference: somewhere in between the two extremes you’ve just explored. And take a moment to listen and watch, just as before.
Which did you find it easiest to engage with?
Like Goldilocks, you’ve asked your friend for too little… too much… and just right. So what does that say about the level of energy you need to give out to your own audience?
You might want to try this whole exercise again – possibly with someone different – in a much more intimate space. Perhaps sitting down, with a spatial relationship that’s more typical of a small or one-to-one meeting. Perhaps even on Zoom - where in my experience, people tend to underestimate the energy they need to come over well. The point is to notice the extent to which those energy levels change for different spatial contexts: what is now too little, too much, or just right?
Whatever you observe, remember that engaging your audience has far more to do with your energy than your content. You may very well need to give far more energy to your presentations – to your whole presence – than you’ve been used to. Even when your audience is small and intimate.
Suit your energy to your medium, and your space – and never assume that one default energy level suits every occasion.
It may only take a small tweak of the dial – but the chances are that you can well afford to turn it UP.