It seems like an obvious question. If you are speaking to a large audience, you are speaking to many people.
However, recently Craig Valentine, the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking, post a video that said the very opposite. In fact, he spent a whole six minute video arguing that very fact. A speaker is not speaking to many people. A speaker is speaking to ONE.
How can that be? There are a whole bunch of people in the room.
It quite simple. You just need to change your perspective.
Imagine you are the audience. Well that actually is hard to imagine, unless you have multiple personalities. But you can imagine you are one member of the audience.
When you are a member of the audience you are listening to the speaker. It is single thread of communication from the speaker to you. That is how it feels.
That thread can be broken when you feel that you are not spoken too, but that the speaker is speaking to some other person or thing.
Craig Valentine and other high performing speakers suggest avoiding "ladies and gentlemen" or "you all" or any other set of words that refers to the people as a group.
I tend to agree that is generally better to talk like you are speaking one to one at the beginning of your talk. It is important that you as a speaker work hard in establishing report with the audience.
However, some people can take it to extremes and keep doing the one on one pattern through out the presentation. This may or may not work. If it is mainly an entertainment speech, then that is a perfectly effective way to do a presentation.
However, if you really want to move people to do things, at some point you are going to need to move from you and me to we.
There it not about two separate people it is about what we can accomplish together.
So, I often look at any presentation going through three distance phases
- You & Me
At the beginning there is low trust between you and the audience. You may even feel uncertain about yourself, you spend a little bit of time letting the audience learn out you. This is to help the audience decide if you are worth listening to in the first place.
You & Me Phase
In the second phrase, after the speaker has established him or herself, the speaker then talking with the audience, ask them questions, giving voice to their possible thoughts and concerns. In other words having a conversation on stage. This is to help build the relation between "You", a member of the audience, and "Me" the speaker.
Depending on the speaker or purpose of the speech, the speaker may then work towards creating to strengthening the group identity. I have seen this done quite quickly with Kamokashira-san in his use of "Ii ne!" The repetition of that key phrase together with the audience builds a bond. And it is with that bond that speaker can move whole groups to accomplish great things.
So, if you are a speaker did you speak to one or do you speak to many. I believe the answer is Yes and Yes. You do both. You just do not do both at the same time. Each has its place and its time.