Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Lights, Mics and Lecterns


For people who don’t do presentations frequently,being on stage is often the most daunting part of the process. Why? We are not used to being all alone in an open space with many eyes upon us. To paraphrase Scot Berkun (read his ‘Confessions of a Public Speaker’ for lots of good stories), it’s the mammal in us which knows instinctively that this is a situation we should get out of. Hence the nerves and the feeling of dread.

Add to this any unfamiliarity with the setup and you have a recipe for things going awry. Nothing throws you off more than the unexpected. If you put some forethought into it, know your ‘stagecraft’, and are comfortable with the technology, you’ll be fine.

Stagecraft? That means making it all flow smoothly. Just as actor’s moves are blocked out and planned, you need to know where you’re going and how to get there.

Always, always (and that means always) check the venue before you start. Make sure the room setup is conducive to what you have to say. Work out how you’ll get on and off the stage. Decide whether to wait in view of the audience while you’re being introduced. Figure out where your control panel is and where your notes, glasses, water, pointer etc are going to be while you speak. Plan your eye contact route so you connect to everyone in the room.

Remember that stage lighting will blind you, and the audience may even be in darkness. If you can’t happily speak without seeing your audience (and who can?)ask for the house lights to go up.

A microphone, if it’s on a stalk or at the lectern, needs to be about 30cms from your mouth. Tall people should try not to crouch over it, and shorties should not stretch. Let the audience wait while you adjust it to the right height – it will make everybody more comfortable if the speaker isn’t straining.

The lectern is the safe haven for most speakers. You can hide behind it, but once your initial discomfort has passed you should not necessarily stay there. Keeping your presentation lively is really important, and walking away from the lectern out into the open on a particularly interesting or important point is a good way to do that. You can return to it when you’re ready. Just make sure you’re wearing a lapel mike!

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This entry was posted on 04/06/2010 by in Nerves and tagged , , .

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