Stand and deliver: how to pitch to a small audience

Working the room needs careful planning

Pitching to a small audience is as difficult as working a big room

Pitching to a small audience is as difficult as working a big room


It’s easy to associate delivering presentations with standing in front of an audience and gesturing toward projected slides. However, many meetings or pitches involve fewer than 10 participants in a room, where everyone remains seated and walks through the same slide deck together.

This is quite a different scenario with greater constraints on the presenter and fewer tools to engage the audience. But thoughtful planning and awareness of nonverbal cues can make these ‘nonpresentations’ successful.

When preparing for a seated presentation, certain tools like a lectern, projector, or microphone may not be readily available, as they might if you were presenting in front of the room. Shift your focus by asking yourself these questions:

How do you prepare your printed deck? It is important to work from the same printed deck (with the same page numbers) as the audience. When you assemble your deck, use a limited number of handwritten notes (possibly even in light pencil), so you don’t appear overly reliant on them.

How do you prepare the deck for your audience? Make it easy for people to follow what you’re saying by guiding them directly to each slide. Use highlights or sticky notes to emphasise important sections. Or try purposefully leaving something blank that you wish to have the audience fill in.

What else should you bring with you? Since typically every member of the audience will have their own copy of the deck, try to bring one item that everybody will look at together for at least a portion of the presentation.

When should you stand? Nonverbal experts agree that if you can stand while others remain seated, you gain some power. So decide if you can stand for the more formal portion of the pitch and then sit to field questions. Should this prove too awkward or out-of-the-norm, consider standing for only a few moments. Perhaps stand to illustrate something on the whiteboard or flip-chart, then remain on your feet for a bit longer, as you facilitate some comments about what you’ve just illustrated.

Where should you sit? Seating should not be accidental. If you are the primary presenter, take a position beside or at a corner adjacent to the decision-maker. Research shows that if you share a corner or side of the table with the decision-maker, it will be easier to reach an agreement. Conversely, the most adversarial position (think of a chess game) is directly opposite someone. Try to sit where you can maximise eye contact.

When should you distribute the pitch book? Delay this if possible. Take some time to talk about the audience’s goals and hopes for the meeting before you begin. Once they have their slide decks, you will be competing for their attention.

Aside from these questions, it’s also important to consider the effect of your voice and your gestures – just as in a standing presentation.

When seated, we still need to breathe fully from the diaphragm and speak with a strong voice. Make sure that those furthest from you can clearly hear you. Being seated allows for a more conversational and informal tone, but don’t become too relaxed, or you may lose your edge as an authority.

In association with Harvard Business Review