For the duration of your presentation, you need to own the space and fill it with your presence. This isn’t about ego – it’s your responsibility as a presenter to create a welcoming and inspiring atmosphere for your audience, and to do everything you can to make sure they have a great experience.
Take Charge of the Physical Space
Start with the layout of the room in the physical space. If you are organising the event, you need to make sure it is laid out the way you want it, well in advance. So you need to either set the room up yourself or speak to the people at the venue who will be laying it out.
You can’t afford to take a chance on this! Imagine turning up at the venue to discover there is no projector for your slides, or that there aren’t enough chairs, with no sign of support staff and your audience waiting outside. This has happened to me – make sure it doesn’t happen to you!
Here are some of the elements to consider:
- How do you want the chairs laid out?
- Do you want the audience to be behind tables? (I don’t)
- Do you need a microphone?
- Do you need a projector or laptop?
- Do you need a flipchart? Pens?
If you are presenting in someone else’s space – e.g. a client’s office or as one of several speakers at an event – you can still take charge of the space. Move a table if it’s in your way. Don’t stand behind the lectern just because all the other speakers have done so.
And try to maintain a consistent room layout. After a while, it will become familiar to you and you will start to relax as soon as you see the furniture arranged the way you like it.
Expand Your Personal Space
Your personal space is your subjective sense of your own presence – how far you are projecting your personality out into the world.
Most of the time it’s like a small circle extending only a foot or two around you. And it feels uncomfortable if strangers get too close, and ‘invade your space’. This is fine for sitting in the audience but useless for presenting.
When you’re up on stage, your presence needs to fill the room. You need to be able to project your voice, your personality and your ideas all the way to the back of the audience. Instead of shying away from having strangers in your personal space, you need to deliberately invite them into it – remember, it’s your responsibility to give them a great experience during your presentation. And you also need to become very sensitive to their mood so that you can respond to it as you talk.
Use this visualisation exercise before every single presentation. After a while, it will become automatic, and you’ll find yourself feeling more and more comfortable in ‘presenter mode’.
Expanding Your Personal Space
- Sit or stand quietly and close your eyes.
- Sweep your attention up your body, starting with your feet, all the way up to your head, so that you become very aware of all your physical sensations in the present.
- Notice how far your personal space extends right at this moment.
- Each time you breathe out, notice your personal space expanding a little further, getting bigger and bigger until it fills the entire room.
- Open your eyes and pay attention to your peripheral vision. (This will help expand your awareness outwards and switch off your mental chatter.)
- Walk around the room slowly and calmly, taking possession of the space and mentally welcoming the audience into your presence.