Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.

–James Stewart

The Social Facilitation Effect is the tendency for people to perform differently in front of an audience than they do when they’re alone. When I first read about this, I thought that of course this so obviously makes sense. Nothing earth-shattering here. I already know that it’s much harder to talk in front of a large audience than to one person. But wait, this experience is actually more nuanced than that.

Research shows that for tasks that a performer knows well, the social facilitation effect can actually improve performance. What a great thing! It turns out that practicing my presentations over and over actually does help me become a more effective public speaker. It’s a great confidence builder to know that if you’re well-prepared, your audience can push you toward success. Next time I have a public speaking challenge, I’m going to visualize the audience as a benevolent group that is helping me perform at a higher level than I could on my own. After all, it’s science.

Update 1: I was discussing this with my daughter yesterday while we were driving to her ice-skating competition. She was telling me that she was nervous to skate in front of a big audience, and so I briefly explained that Social Facilitation Effect predicts that the combination of hard work, practice, and the energy of an audience will help her perform better than she might on her own. After a successful one-foot spin and two gold medals, we are both true believers.

Update 2: I was in Florida to speak at a conference this past week. Although I was a little bit nervous, I remembered the social facilitation effect and walked to the front of the room with confidence. I smiled and the audience smiled. Rather than robotically scanning the room, I spoke to individual faces and people stayed engaged. I walked toward people when they asked me questions. In short, it was a great experience. I actually had someone ask me for public speaking tips after my presentation! 


My name is Anissa Stansfield. I'm a Manager for a large manufacturing company in Southern California. Although I started as an entry-level engineer, I have since worked my way up and now manage a department of 50 talented engineers working on a variety of complex and exciting projects. I have learned a lot through my experiences, and so I started this blog to share them with all of you. I hope that my thoughts and perspectives help you on your successful journey toward your goals.

Leave a Reply