5 Steps to Making the Speaking Space Your Own
When you're the speaker making the speaking space "your own", optimizing it for the audience and yourself, can help you deliver a great presentation. Last time we looked at ways to deal with nerves, and owning the space is one way to help manage nervousness. Let's go a little deeper into what this means and how to do it.
Too often speakers don't really give much consideration to the speaking venue (other than how to get there) and don't think or are afraid to ask for changes. But anything you can do to help you connect with your audience is worthwhile. You won't be able to control everything but you can certainly fine-tune for the better.
It can be something little...
I once saw a speaker who had a single red rose up on the podium with her. I assumed the hosts had put it there as decoration. Later, I found out she brought it herself as part of her own speaking ritual. She said it make her feel more comfortable having something from nature there. It eased her nervousness.
It can be something big...
At another venue I noticed that because of the odd shaped room people would huddle in the back and talk with each other while the speaker was speaking. So when I spoke at the same event I asked for a wireless microphone so that I could wonder around the room and really engage with everyone.
These things keep your mind focused on what you can control rather than what you can’t. Little adjustments can make the space or the situation more comfortable - making it easier for you to engage with the audience.
Here are a few other things you can do as a speaker to make the space a place where you can thrive.
Know Who Can Help You Out
Get there a bit early and introduce yourself to the host. Let them know you'll check out the room and ask who’s there to help if want to adjust the setup. Make sure you know who to go to when you want to change or alter something – this way things can get done efficiently. It also means there’s less running around for you. Don’t be a diva but also don’t be shy about asking.
Be Technology Ready
Get that technology up and running. Whether it's the beamer, microphone, lighting, internet, something else or all the above the sooner you get it successfully running the happier you'll be. When there are troubles these things, they often require other people to figure them out and some time - it can be stressful. So the earlier you check it all out the better.
Make sure the beamer image is large enough and in focus. I know it sounds silly to call it out here but time and again I see people get up there and then stumble. They checked the connection to the beamer but didn't actually take the 2 seconds to see if it looked good or was easy to read. People either lose their cool when they realize it's not right or they deliver the entire presentation to an audience who's distracted by an image on the wall that they can't quite figure out.
Be prepared to deliver your presentation under any conditions. Bring a copy of your slide deck on a memory stick. This way if your computer won't connect you can try it on another one. I know it's old school but bring a hard copy with you for your own reference. This way you can still deliver your presentation, regardless of whether the beamer functions or not. Don't be caught unprepared.
Walk the Room & Make Adjustments
Check the space from the audience’s perspective. For example look for seats where people might be blocked from seeing you on the stage or vice versa. Notice if there are areas of the room where people will be distracted by an open window or sitting in the ficus tree in the corner (yes I've seen that one). These are all things where you can the hosts to move the seats or change something so that it's better for the audience.
Don’t be afraid to ask the hosts to make adjustments. As a speaker it’s horrible when the front rows are empty and there’s a huge gap between you and the audience. So keep some string, rope or reserved signs in your bag and ask the hosts to block of the back rows until the front is filled. Maybe it’s small workshop and you’d prefer to have a circle seating rather than theater. Asking for such adjustments shows your commitment to creating a positive experience for all. It will benefit you and the audience.
Check the Speaking Area
Look for potential issues in the speaking area. Be sure the beamer and any lighting is on and then deliver a few sentences from different parts of the speaking area. Notice where are you blinded by the beamer or a spotlight? Are there any cables to trip on or step to stumble down? Is there a table between you and the audience? Does your voice carry less from different areas? Adjust where you can and be aware of the pitfalls (literally and figuratively).
Two things in particular.
First, if there’s a table between the you and the audience, consider moving it. It's often best to have your laptop in front of you and to the side. This way you won't need to turn your back to look at your slides. Often you’ll see presenters give great presentations to their slides rather than the audience – don't let that be you! Also a table between you two can block the connection you have with them.
Second, if there’s no microphone check that you can be heard from different places on the stage (if you like moving around). I once saw a high level manager give a presentation to 400 employees – it was like the great and powerful OZ speaking. Every time he started speaking he would take a step back into the shadow. All we heard was a disembodied, booming voice, but we couldn’t see him. I could hardly focus on what he was saying because it was so comical. Ask people to check out how your voice carries to different parts of the room.
Connect with the Energy of the Room
Prepare mentally. Take 5-10 minutes before the session begins to prepare yourself mentally and connect with the space. Be aware of how your body feels and what's in you head. Let go of whatever won't help you and then do what you need to shift your energy towards serving the audience.
I like to do a short visualization. Starting with my posture I check that it's tall and open. I adjust as needed (when nervous we tend to collapse). I then envision a bubble of inclusion around me. It starts out small and with each exhale I focus on increasing it's size until it encompasses the room. My goal is to ensure that the entire audience is with me inside the bubble. It reminds me to include everyone; people sense your connection with them (even if they don't realize it).
It’s your responsibility as the speaker to do what you can to deliver the best presentation / speech / workshop. If there are issues that might get in the way, then it’s in everyone's best interest that you speak up and that adjustments are made where possible. Organizers are usually happy to help and support your endeavor to optimize. If you don’t ask, they certainly won’t.
What have you done as a speaker to make a speaking space your own? Share with us below in the comments section.
I wish you all the best in your next speaking endeavor and remember ENJOY SPEAKING!