In August, 2004, when I was competing at the World Championship of Public Speaking finals, I was on the stage the night before the competition, and stood in awe as I started to comprehend what it was going to be like to speak to an audience of over 2000 people. The seating area seemed to go on forever into the background. The stage was the widest I had ever seen. I spent about 10 minutes on the stage thinking about the potential challenges this speaking area would present. Some of my considerations were:
1. Every seat in the room has a “customer”, I need to make sure I give due attention to all areas of the huge room while delivering my speech.
2. The speaker entry area and the spot where the Master of Ceremonies (MC) was located were at opposite ends of a very wide stage. I would need to make sure I did not move too fast across the stage to shake his hand, as I could potentially find myself out of breath or breathing heavily at the start of my speech.
3. I would be using a lapel- type microphone, but they would also have an emergency hand held microphone lying on the ground at the edge of the stage at the center (for the possibility of lapel mike malfunction). I made sure that I knew exactly where it was.
4. I evaluated the lectern adjacent to where the master of ceremonies would be located. I would not be using it for my speech, but I would be using it for the interview portion at the end of the event. Here were some of my considerations concerning the lectern:
• How high is the lectern? I am a short person and some lecterns are high enough to hide me if I stand behind them (Do I want to have a box ready to stand on? Do I want to make fun of the situation – “Can you see me now, Can you see me now!”).
• How many microphones are on the lectern? How can I adjust the height of them so they are not blocking my face, and will pick up my voice more effectively (nothing more embarrassing than snapping a microphone in half that is not intended to be adjusted!).
5. While walking around the stage, I checked for anything that might be a tripping hazard; slight changes in elevation of the floor sections of the stage, loose duct tape, carpet nails poking up, electrical wires, etc.
6. While delivering my speech silently in my head, I practiced my purposeful movement. I had to get a good understanding how my speech would be coordinated with the wide and deep stage. The stage set-up would allow me to not only do side-to-side movement and front-to-back movement, but it would also allow diagonal movement.
This bit of preparation helped me reach my potential at this important event by minimizing the unexpected, reducing anxiety, and allowing me to focus on my speech delivery. The only thing to take me by surprise on the day of the competition was someone who was standing at the entry point of the stage, he stopped me a moment before I was due to step on the stage and said in a very business-like voice saying, “Please check that your fly is closed.” This person had been assigned by the organizers to make sure the speakers would not have any “wardrobe malfunctions” – that, folks, is attention to detail!! To put that in perspective, I really would not have wanted an open fly to allow the audience to see that I was wearing my “Lucky Leprechaun” boxer shorts under my very formal attire! I should also add that they were projecting my image up onto huge screens. Thank you wardrobe malfunction prevention person, your attention to detail is greatly appreciated.
CLICK HERE if you would like to see a three minute excerpt of my speech.
This article highlights the importance of understanding the configuration of the room you are speaking in, and the preparation that you can do (and the changes you can potentially make to suit your purposes). Whether you are speaking in an auditorium, conference room, or training in a classroom- style room, there are many things you can do to help maximize your success. When I coach speakers, I encourage them to take control of the room when possible. Simple considerations can have a huge positive impact on your presentation.
One of the most challenging speaking venues for me has been a gymnasium with over 1000 people attending. People were seated 360 degrees around me. I knew this ahead of time; I received permission to move the lectern to a better position (while still allowing it to be functional for my introducer). I was able to create a large speaking area that would allow me to move about energetically while making sure I was making eye contact with people in every quadrant. If I had arrived at this event without this knowledge, it could have resulted in a level of unnecessary stress as this is probably the most difficult audience seating configuration I have ever had to speak to.
Success Strategies – Managing Your Speaking Arena with Preparation
1. Do you have a good understanding of the room dimensions, seating configuration, location of the lectern, location of the projector and screen, what obstacles will be in the way, etc.? Can you visit the event area ahead of time or get them to send you a drawing, sketch or photo? Hotels and conference rooms usually have this information available online or if you ask them for it.
2. Do you have any control over the room or the layout? If so, work it to your advantage. I prefer not to use a lectern, and like to move it away to the side so it is usable by the person introducing me, but is not an obstruction to my movement during my presentation (I like to move about!). What type of presentation or training are you giving, what is the expected size of the audience, and what type of seating configuration will maximize the success of the event? Many times I see speakers stepping backwards and forwards around lecterns that they are not using, and it is an obstruction that they could easily have asked to be moved.
3. Will there be a microphone available (lapel or hand-held)? If not, will your voice be able to project clearly to the back of the room when it is full of people?
4. What distractive noise (air conditioning fans etc.) could there be in the room or in an adjacent room? I have once given a speech when the adjacent conference room had a Mexican musical hoe-down going on. Luckily, I have a strong voice and had a microphone that was suitably adjusted by the assigned AV person to allow my message to be audible.
5. Where are you going to put your supply of rehydration water (for longer speeches, presentations, or training sessions)? Put it in a place where you are not going to turn your back to the audience, or have to reach down to the ground. In addition, keep it away from laptops and projectors etc.; nervous hands can fumble and set you up for failure.
6. When you are being introduced, where will you stand and how will you make your way to the speaking area? I prefer to stand at the back of the room when I am being introduced, and then walk to the front through a clear path down the center of the audience or to the side. If you have to fight your way through obstructions or ask people to pull in their chairs, this can be distracting and diminish your image as a professional.
7. If you are using a projector some considerations might be:
• Is it a ceiling type or one that sits on a table in front of the screen?
• If you are bringing your own projector, do you know if you need to bring extension cords/power bar, or if they will be supplied?
• How will you manage the tripping hazards of wires from the projector/speakers/extension cord? Can someone put a mat or duct-tape on the wires to reduce the hazard? Imagine the disaster of tripping over projector wires and pulling the projector to the ground with the “pop” of the bulb!
• Where will you stand and move to? You do not want to be walking in front of the projector image or standing with the projector image on your face. Ceiling- type projectors with an elevated screen may allow you to use the speaking area extensively where the table projector may limit your movement to a corner. If there is a table projector obstructing movement, I typically choose to stand on the left (as viewed by the audience).
• Will you use a remote to move from slide-to-slide? Will you use your own or will you use one that is supplied? Will someone show you how to use it ahead of time? Are the batteries good? Do you know the procedure to connect/configure your remote to someone else’s laptop?
• Will you need someone to sit at the laptop to move from slide to slide? Is that person familiar with PowerPoint etc. and can they understand your signals to move to the next slide or back? If you are advancing the slides directly from the laptop yourself, can you do it easily without getting in the way of the screen or projector light?
Final Note: Remember – preparation sets you up for success and also can help reduce anxiety.