Filling the Room

By David Griffiths, Immediate Past President

For Parramatta Toastmasters, an audience of just 25 people or so really does feel on the small side. I suspect that was the impression many members had at our last meeting – the “inside” seats were notably empty, and the Chairman had begun counting/re-counting the members present to make sure we had a quorum!

In comparison with some of the big club meetings, like Christmas, Changeover and the Club Birthday, the room was very subdued indeed. But even though I relish those crowded, energetic gatherings, I’ve come to realise that working a smaller group can really be rewarding as a speaker.

I think back to our 2010 Birthday – 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking Darren La Croix was our guest and the room showed it. Over 70 people were crammed in; Darren himself ended up putting out extra chairs at the back of the room to take the guests who continued to arrive. With an upbeat table topics session, a speech from Darren and several Past Presidents giving memorable presentations, the entire audience buzzed for the full 3.5 hours (another meeting I couldn’t close on time)!

The small and relatively spread-out group at the last meeting was unlikely to finish with that level of energy; without going into a discussion on thermodynamics which nobody will enjoy, you notice the small audience most when humour is being used. Barbara and Kirisha both gave humorous speeches on the night, as well as a punchy Larfmaster assignment from Melanie Wilson – they all did a great job designing and delivering humorous material, but I hope they know that a slightly bigger audience would have responded much more vigorously. People laugh more freely and loudly when people are laughing around them, so a sparse crowd really pulls the responses back! If Barbara, Kirisha and Melanie gave the same speeches again to a bigger group, the responses would be quite different!

I don’t want to put down a small audience though – in truth, some of my favourite meetings have been just like last week. Small groups that feel and sound much more intimate. You can really work with each person – get eye contact all around and feel how everyone is responding emotionally. It also means that more people get involved in the meeting. We had good fun debating several questions under Demian’s Chairmanship (in fact it took about 8 minutes to decide not to confirm the minutes of the previous meeting)! People who rarely interject during the business session suddenly found themselves moving procedural motions or raising points of order.

So what I see in a club meeting with lots of people is an opportunity to push the energy around the room, to feel the response to humour from the audience and go home buzzing.

The small crowd is much more intimate. You can get up close to each other, work face-to-face, have people involved all the way through.

I get a buzz from that too – should I wish that less of you would turn up to see it?


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