In many ways, public speaking is public speaking, whether you’re addressing 5,000 delegates at a conference or pitching for business to a meeting of five potential clients. The practical and psychological preparation required in both cases is pretty much the same: the difference is in the scale of your performance.
What sort of image does the phrase “public speaking” conjure up for you? A motivational speaker on stage in front of an enormous crowd? A politician at a rally? Whatever scene you’re seeing, my guess is it’s on quite a large scale. This is a natural preconception and it’s what people tend to prepare for, whether the situation actually warrants it or not. But, just as it’s essential to know who your audience is and adapt your language and style accordingly, it’s essential to deliver a performance suitable for the number of people in front of you.
The smaller the audience, the less licence you have to be formal, larger than life and obviously well rehearsed. This affects both the language you use and the way you deliver it: rhetorical flourishes and studied gestures may have a powerful effect on a sea of supporters but will appear hollow and faintly ridiculous if the setting is too small.
In other words, the smaller the audience, the more subtle your performance needs to be. A bit like the difference between stage and film acting, if you’re speaking to a large group, you can be big and bold; they will expect you to be putting on a show for them. With only a handful of people to play to, however, you need to tone it right down to what appears natural and spontaneous.
Yet again, the moral of the story is to take the audience as your starting point. Before you compose a beautiful piece of oratory, think about how it’s going to sound to the people who’ll be hearing it. Issues of size and scale will sort themselves out if you keep putting yourself in the position of the audience as you prepare and rehearse.