Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!
If your script were a cake, the last step is to bake it. You’ve done a lot of work on the preparation, now you need to make sure it isn’t spoiled in the last stage. I say that with fingers crossed, because blips at this point are extremely common.
The sixth step in this process is about managing the venue, and just like your oven, it can be your best friend or your worst foe.
There are three things which need to be in your control:
1. Your position in relation to the audience
2. The technology
3. The logistics
1. You and the audience. You wrote this script with a setting in mind. Talking in a meeting room around a conference table is utterly different from addressing a ballroom full of people. You took that into account, but what if the setting is not as you planned? It happens. One speaker I know was not told she’d be speaking out of doors (it was night), on a stool. Another found her ‘conversational seminar ‘ was in a classroom with the ‘students’ in rows like a schoolroom. I have often done courses in rooms set up cabaret style , with half the people facing each other, not the presenter; and once I arrived to give a lecture on how to use Powerpoint to be told there was no projector, or screen, and I could not use slides.
For this reason it’s vital that you arrive early. Really early. You need to check out the setup. Try it out, see how it fits your expectations. Go into the space and check the location of everything you’ll need. Hop up to the podium or take your place at the meeting table, and see how it feels. What are the sight lines like? Can you pick up everyone? What about the lighting? Is your face illuminated or in shadow? Can you see your audience (important for eye contact and vital for taking questions)?
2. The technology. Make time in advance with the tech person, the one who is helping you set up and run the show. Go through EVERYTHING completely and allow time for trouble shooting. Be nice. You need this person to be your friend. Check the height of the microphone. Will you have to raise or lower it? Switch it on and speak – how do you sound? Is there a reverb? Are you popping or hissing? Where are your AV controls? Where do you put your notes? Are you using a teleprompter? Is it working properly?
If the setup is not what you’d expected, you may need to adjust your script or your slides. Be ready for anything. BRING A SPARE COPY OF EVERYTHING.
3. Control the logistics. Where do you enter and exit? Where do you sit/stand? If you’re going up stairs to get on, can you do it with your body erect and your head up? If you have to move around on stage can you stay out of the way of others? If you need to shake hands, will you be able to do so with poise? If you have papers with you, work out how you’ll keep them tidy and not drop them. Do you need to know where your glasses or water will go? Are you being recorded? Does that put limits on you, eg how far you can walk around?
It’s only by managing these elements that your well developed script will do its job.
Let’s look at two examples to see how venue pitfalls have the potential to spoil the show.
Here is the Duchess of Cambridge. It was her first public speech and she was charming. However, she’s a tall person on very high heels (you need to watch it to the end to get the full impact) and she is too tall for her microphone and her lectern. She has to bend her head to look at her notes every few seconds, so we see it bob up down, up down, breaking and making eye contact. It may have been fine in the room, but it lacks polish on the broadcast tape. Also, she’s not used to waiting for the audience response – the laughter about missing William produces a slight stumble as she doesn’t know quite how to deal with it.
Now look at these pictures (Click to enlarge, they’re from USyd’s Alumni and Friends Facebook page ) from a recent comedy debate at Sydney University. It was a fantastic event, and all the speakers were great, but the venue had its challenges, and there was no run-through beforehand. I wonder what adjustments the speakers would have made had they known what was waiting for them.
The hall was narrow, deep and full, and (being sandstone) boomy and echoey. The speakers ranged greatly in height, yet none of them adjusted the microphone – which was fine for the tall guys, but obscured the faces of the shorter girls. The moderator had no lectern, and very ably managed a hand-held mic and her papers while she worked the crowd at the same time. The amplification, while clear to the audience, sounded soupy to the speakers. To compensate they spoke ex-tre-m-e-l-y slowly, which did provide clarity of diction all the way to the back of the hall, but surely must have inhibited their spontaneous sparkle.
If you have a story to illustrate how to make sure the venue works for you, please uses the comments to share it!