If you’ve ever been asked to speak or present in front of a group of strangers then you understand how intimidating that can be.

Now imagine for a moment that we add to that group of strangers your closest peers or colleagues. If you’re anything like me you’re probably getting sweaty palms even thinking about that. Let’s put the icing on this anxiety cake scenario and imagine that now, not only is the room full of your closest colleagues or peers but now, seated in the front row are some of the people you admire and respect the most.

How would this impact the way you present? 

This is the typical environment in which I have found myself speaking in for the past 7 years. Speaking regularly to a group of strangers, colleagues, peers and a front row full of people who I strongly admire and respect.

I remember getting one of my first opportunities to speak in this environment. I prepared and practiced relentlessly. I knew my content back to front and delivered it passionately…but it missed the mark. I communicated well, but despite how polished the presentation was, it didn’t connect with people.


I spoke to one of the people in the front row who I respected and asked him for feedback (which we all need) and he told me something that I was completely oblivious to. He said “Shane you were great, but the whole time you just kept looking at me to see how I was responding to what you had to say and you didn’t connect with the people here you were supposed to be speaking to“.

I wasn’t aware that in my attempt to impress or gain respect from the people I admired on the front row, I had unknowingly disconnected from the people who actually needed to hear what I had to say. I wasn’t saying anything that the people I respected on the front row hadn’t heard before or been exposed to before. They were already on board and engaged with what I had to say. But the back row? The people who were checking this out, who had not been exposed to this environment before. They felt disengaged and disinterested.

I learned a valuable lesson in public speaking from this experience and it’s just this simple thought.

“Don’t miss the back row trying to the impress the front row

The front row are on board, they are convinced, they are engaged. It’s why they are on the front row. I’ve learned that speaking to a room full of people requires “Back to Front Communication“. If we give our passion and energy and strength to engaging the back row of the room, by default we will give our energy, strength and passion to the front of the room.

It can be so tempting to want to impress the people you respect most in the room on the front row, but the very fact that you have been given the opportunity to speak means that these people respect you enough to entrust you with the opportunity. So look up, look out and engage “Back to Front” and watch what a difference it will make in your communication.