By Diane DiResta

4 Presentation Tips to Manage Space to Control the Room and Influence Results
30 June 2017 | 10:55 am

4 Presentation Tips to Manage Space to Control the Room and Influence Results

Gender research will tell you that men take up more space than women. Physically, when a man and a woman sit next to each other in public transportation, it’s common to see what’s called “manspreading. Manspreading is a sitting position with legs spread apart that encroaches on the space of the adjacent passenger. So, what does this have to do with public speaking?

Public speaking demands the mastery of space.

One way to identify a seasoned presenter is to observe how they manage their space. Top public speakers master the use of space because:

  • it gives them greater rapport with the audience
  • allows them to manage the room and control group dynamics
  • and ultimately influence results.

It takes more than crafting a good speech. The presenter must coordinate and use space strategically to lead the audience. The importance of space is often overlooked.

Dianne Budion Devitt, renowned event designer speaks about space in meetings and events experiences. She states, “Awareness is increased when you relate it to all aspects of space, whether, it’s physical, digital, inner or outer space”.

Here are 4 areas to address when you are a public speaker or presenter.

Physical Space –How often does a speaker arrive at a venue with little or no knowledge of the space and room set-up? Yet, space is a communication. By asking the right questions and arriving early presenters can take charge of a venue to maximize the space.

Is the platform too high? One presenter gave a talk to a sales group. The setting was a bandshell type stage. The audience sat at tables away from the platform. The challenge was that the platform was too high and far away making it difficult to create intimacy. The choice here would be to step down and speak from the floor to be closer to eye level with the audience. You don’t have to use the stage just because it’s there.

Is the room too long or narrow? I once spoke at a lunch meeting. The room was narrow and very long. People were crowded together at a lengthy board table for 50 people. The lectern was in the front of the room. With this lack of physical space, the people sitting in the middle and back of the table were at an extreme disadvantage. Instead of remaining in front, I chose to move to the middle. And then I moved to another spot. This created more of a relationship, improved sound quality, and the entire audience felt included.

Is the room too large?  This is often the case when a training room that can accommodate 40 people is reserved for a group of eight. The space then becomes overwhelming. The best bet is to move the tables and chairs close to the front. Otherwise, there is too much distance from the audience when the instructor is near the screen.

Personal Space– Body space, or Proxemics, is the study of the space between the sender and receiver. This space influences how a message is interpreted and can vary according to cultures. According to Edward T. Hall, there are four zones:

  • Intimate-this space is up to 10 inches and reserved for friends and family
  • Casual-18 inches to four feet is for informal conversations
  • Social-Four to 12 feet is appropriate for more formal communication
  • Public-12-25 feet

When speaking one-on-one, the presenter may choose a casual or social distance. The intimate space may seem intrusive unless you are friendly colleagues. The listener doesn’t want their space invaded, so use good judgement and respect personal space.

Where are you positioned? When giving a one-on-one sales presentation do you want to be across a table or side-by-side? This is a strategic decision. A table or desk can be a barrier. To create intimacy in an interview, it’s better to leave the desk and sit on the sofa or on two chairs facing each other. If the intention is to convey authority, sitting across a large desk will communicate dominance.

When we were dealing with a difficult real estate developer, my husband called a meeting with their attorney. We arrived early and he decided we would each sit on opposite sides of the table forcing the attorney into the less powerful position between us. When the attorney walked into the room, he took one look and quickly sat down beside me. He was no fool. He knew that space is power.

How you enter a room communicates leadership. Do you confidently walk to the center of the room, plant yourself and look directly at the audience? Or do you stand off to the side? Do you move toward or away from the audience? How close you position yourself to the audience will communicate intimacy or formality.

Do you work the room?  Public speakers who stand behind a lectern communicate formality. The most confident speakers use space by walking to different sections of the platform and talking to a section of the audience.

What do your hands say about space? Gestures add or detract from a presentation depending on the amount of space used. When speaking on a large stage, more expansive gestures denote confidence because the speaker is taking up space.

Recently, one man in my presentation skills seminar seemed to gesture with his elbows glued to his side. He started to refer to his “raptor arms” when he realized he wasn’t using the space effectively.

More commonly, presenters violate space by gesturing too widely. This was the issue with Bill Clinton in his early political career. His wide, sweeping gestures didn’t communicate trust. He learned to stay in the box between his waist and face. More contained gestures communicate the speaker is confident and in control.

White Space-A huge challenge for many presenters is the absence of space. Imagine reading a newspaper without any punctuation. It’s confusing and takes longer to read. That’s how an audience experiences a presentation without space or “white noise.” The brain needs time to process. Without delivering a few beats of silence between the words, the speaker loses the audience and the message doesn’t get through. There is power in silence. Master the pause.

Pianist, Arthur Schnabel once said, “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides.”

Mental Space– What are you saying to yourself? Do you create space in your head to listen and receive the audience?  Leadership requires a clear mind. Most presenters fill their minds with negative chatter, focusing on their nerves or what could go wrong. When presenters are thinking about nervousness they are living in the future. Instead, focus on the breath. Come into the present moment to clear the mind and create a space of openness.

There is no greater gift than to be fully present.

Diane DiResta, CSP, is Founder and CEO of DiResta Communications, Inc., a New York City consultancy serving business leaders who deliver high stakes presentations— whether one-to-one, in front of a crowd or from an electronic platform.   DiResta is the author of Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch, and Pizzazz, an Amazon.com category best-seller and widely-used text in college business communication courses. DiResta Communication Inc. Diane is a Certified Speaking Professional, a designation held by less than 12% of speakers nationwide. And her blog, Knockout Presentations, made the Top 50 Pubic Speaking blogs

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