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Where Should I Stand When I Am Presenting?

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Usually this isn’t even a question for most presenters, because the organisers have already set up the room when you arrive. Our speaking spot has been designated for us.  But have we been designated a spot by experts in public speaking or by the venue crew who usually just haul chairs, lug tables around and set up the stage?  Sadly the coalescence between expertise in public speaking and membership of the logistics team is rare.
 
So where should we stand?  This will depend on the venue size, the illumination of the room, the size of the audience, the layout of the stage, where the screens are located and what you want to achieve.  
 
I attended an effective talk where the stage was empty, yet the speech suddenly got underway with no speaker in sight.  He was actually wearing a Lavelle microphone and was behind the audience at the rear of the room. The acoustics of that hall however, gave no indication of where he was standing and so it created a buzz as the assembled masses tried to place the speaker’s location, with the voice they could all hear.  He then strode manfully to the stage and continued his oration.  
 
As an attention-getter, to break through all the clutter in the heads of the audience, it was very effective and he did that just by varying his speaking spot from where everyone usually starts. 
 
If we are using a screen, then is it hoisted high above us, are there two giant screens on the left and right or is it at our height in the center of the stage?  In smaller venues, the screen is normally at our height and usually set up such that the podium is on the audience right of the stage.  No particular thought has gone into this location and the choice is purely random, often linked more closely to power outlets and cabling considerations, than the speaker’s effectiveness.
 
Stand on the audience left of the screen, so that the audience can read your facial expression and body language and then move their eyes right to read text or images on the screen.  We read left to right, so this is a natural progression.  We always want the screen to be subordinate to us.  So set the proceedings up such that they have to look at you first, rather than at the slides on the screen.  Our face is a trillion times more powerful as a communication tool, than anything that is on that screen.
 
If there are giant screens above, then the chances are the venue is pretty large and the stage will be quite wide.  Rather than being stuck in one place, work the stage area.  I don’t mean nervous, fidgety, random pacing across the stage as I have seen done by many amateur presenters.  I mean move right to the very apron of the stage and to the extremes of left and right to engage with all of your audience.  Just be careful at the edge that you don’t fall off, because that can easily happen, when we are fully engaged on our audience and we miss the peripheral sight of the edge.  
 
Start in the middle of a large stage, as close as you can get to your audience.  Remember, that to those seated at the back or up on the first, second or third tiers of seating, you are the size of a peanut.  Yes, they have the giant screens but try to bring your physical presence as close to your audience as you can, to create a closer connection.  
 
Move slowly to the extreme left and then stop.  Now we can engage everyone on this side of the room.  After a few minutes move slowly back to the center and stop.  Now move slowly across to the extreme right and stop.  Then slowly back to the center, by which time it will be getting very close to your peroration.  
 
I might also add that if the venue is large, then really exaggerate your gestures and expressions. The scale of the venue requires that larger version of you to enable you to engage with your audience and "work the room".  Get to the venue early and go sit in the most distant seats. That is when you realize how small the speaker is when on stage and that you have to "big it up" more.
 
You might be thinking you have to stand where the podium is located.  Why?  With the automatic slide advancers available today we can be highly mobile.  If the clicker isn’t working well, then enlist a colleague as a "slide advancer" to man the laptop and move slides on your signal.  Or, you can just stroll back to the laptop and do it yourself.  Don’t get stuck behind the podium because we can’t access all of your body language if you do that.
 
If you are stuck behind a podium, then be sure that as much of your upper body as possible is visible.  This might require asking the venue staff for a small platform on which to stand behind the podium.  The microphone arrangements may make that tricky, depending on the height of the stand provided. If you need to remove the microphone from the stand then do so and stand as tall as possible, so you can be seen easily.
 
If the venue is smaller, then we can stand left of the screen but we can employ three strategic distances in combination with the content of what we are saying.  We start speaking when we are about halfway between the back of the stage and the audience – the neutral or green zone.  
 
If we want to add strong support to a micro point we are delivering, then we move forward to as close to the audience as we can get, the intense or red zone.  We don’t stay there long because the pressure is too strong for the audience.  We should move back to the middle, to lessen the intensity.  
 
If we want to make a bigger or more macro point, we move toward the rear of the stage, the big picture or blue zone and then go back to the green zone. These changes of distance are related to what we are talking about so there is no consistent pattern necessarily.  In fact, we don’t want any consistent patterns or we will become predictable to our audience. They switch us off because they have anticipated what we will do and they soon lose interest.
 
Normally lighting isn’t an issue unless some amateur stage hand, do-gooder or volunteer decides your screen needs more contrast and they turn off or dim the lights.  Stop whatever you are doing and request them to turn those lights back on.  We need to be seen and we need to see the faces of our audience.  We need to gauge the reaction to what we are saying and to check if we are losing their interest or not.  
 
A speaker recently gave a TED talk here in Tokyo, but to accommodate various cool technological features such as holograms, an invisible screen was separating the speaker from the audience.  Well it was invisible to the audience and they could see the speaker, but not the other way around.  That is a nightmare right there, because you are talking to an audience you can’t actually see.  It always pays to check the speaking arrangements before you speak or get here early and try to fix logistical items which will negate the impact of your talk.
 
Sometimes in smaller, more intimae venues like clubs, the lighting is rather poor.  We can use the projector to throw up light or we can look for spotlights to try to get some light on us and the audience.  We can also try and stand very close to the audience, so that our physical presence will compensate for the lack of light.
 
If we are on a panel and everyone is seated, we should stand when we give our initial remarks, if possible.  Thereafter, we may be seated, as we back and forth on the various worthy points under consideration.  By standing, we use our full arsenal of body language capability and projection to make our argument.  When you can stand up and speak without relying on having notes cradled in your lap, you gain more credibility and more projection for your argument.  In Japan, the crowded space on the raised dais between your seat and the obligatory low table, may not allow it, but don’t be afraid to stand and talk, rather than having to remain seated if you can manage it.
 
To be an effective speaker, we need to include consideration of the best logistics needed to support our efforts.  Don’t rely on the clueless to prepare the venue properly, instead have a clue ourselves and always be in command of our environment.
 
 
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