Public Speaking: Layout and Floor Plan

January 30th, 2009 by Frank Damelio

In our recent blog about rude audiences, we referred to the fact that the speaker disseminated information rather than communicating and connecting with the audience.  This helped cultivate an environment conducive to chitter chatter.  Upon reflection, more variables come into play.  

The first is seating.  While technically this was not a “seating” issue because much of the audience was standing, the same guidelines apply:  the denser the population the more they pay attention.  Scattered audiences have scattered attention spans.  This certainly contributed to the five private conversations that broke out while the speaker was presenting.

The second is room layout and floor plan.  Given the choice, It is always better to have a room that is slightly too small rather than too big. It it makes the event seem like it was a sell-out.  ”They packed the room!” will be the reviews.  In addition, you avoid the scattered population problem.  Finally, the speaker has more relative presence; so both she and her message are less likely to get lost in the room.

The third variable is speaker positioning in the room.  Most rooms are rectangular, and in such cases the speaker is best positioned on a short end.  The “less square” the room, the more important this becomes.  Presenting from the the long side of a “flattened” rectangle will destroy your impact on the audience.  It dilutes your focus, voice and eye contact and INVITES the temptation for your audience members begin talking amongst themselves.  Most audience members will resist the temptation to speak aloud; instead they will engage in their own internal dialogue.  For example: “I better get working on my 3rd quarter presentation for next week, I wonder if Bob has started his?”  Some rude or ignorant members will simply startup a conversation.

Looking at our rude audience scenario, my bet is that had these layout issues been addressed in advanced, there may have been only one or no private conversations ensuing while the Chamber Officer was presenting . . . rather than five.

When you are public speaking, command your battlefield by controlling your layout and floor plan whenever possible.  Always keep in mind, a wider and more dispersed audience requires far more presentational skill on your part than does a narrow and densely populated audience.

In short: how and where they sit/stand will be a significant factor in how much they feel that they “liked” your presentation.  As always, it’s all in the nuances.

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2 Responses to “Public Speaking: Layout and Floor Plan”

  1. The Public Speaking Training Expert Says:

    Another important consideration in room set up is “stage anchoring” which is a very advanced technique; map out several spots on the floor where you’ll tell stories, or jokes, or secrets – the idea is to link those spots to specific states of mind you want to elicit in your group. Very powerful method.

    Best,
    David Portney

  2. Frank Damelio Says:

    David,

    Thanks again for contribution your expert advice. Stage anchoring also ensures that you’re moving, but not pacing. From your perspective, are there any specific locations on stage that lend themselves better for, say, humor, secrets or emotions?

    Thanks again David!

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