How to own your space when presenting

Your relationship with the space around you can have a big impact on the effectiveness of your presentation. Here’s how to do it right… 

Know your space

When entering an arena that is unfamiliar to us, our natural instinct is to limit our movement and assess the environment for signs that it’s safe to proceed. Presenting is no different. If you are at ease with your environment you will move around it effortlessly and start to gain ownership over the space. This confidence will add to the perceived power of your speaking.

So a familiarity with the area you'll be speaking from will always give you an edge. If possible, visit the scene of your presentation beforehand and stand where you’ll be speaking. Get a feel for the space and visualise yourself speaking and succeeding.

Make use of personal markers

Another way to gain control over your space is to leave personal markers – things that belong to you such as a drink, flipcharts, sample products, props etc.

Objects like these will enable you to travel in and around your presenting area to use them when you need them – and, as you do, you'll find you are gaining more and more ownership of the area.

As this video in my last blog shows, Steve Jobs was a master at taking well-placed drinks during product launches. Rehearsed or not, it gave the audience the perception of someone who was relaxed and confident enough in their space to be able to grab those moments.

Use movement and emphasis

Once you have created a space that you are really happy to use, you can then apply your physical proximity to the audience to play with drama and emphasis.

Stepping close to your audience as you emphasise a particular point or message will have a much stronger impact on them than staying in the same position. And when you have to handle a difficult question, the trick is to move in too.

While your instinct may well be to move away, this will unconsciously tell the audience that you are unhappy or uncomfortable with what you’ve heard and are effectively retreating. If it is a hard question then step inwards and engage – even if you don't know the answer.

Create a sense of progress or location

You can also use your space to create the movement of time and location, or to dramatise contrasting perspectives. By placing yourself in or gesturing to a particular position, you can ask your audience to make an association with that position.

To tell a story of how your business overcame a challenge, for instance, you might start by standing on the right hand side of the stage and saying, ‘The problem began in New York seven years ago when…’. You could then move to the centre of the stage and describe the action you took to deal with those challenges. After that, you could then move to the far left of the stage and say – ‘And here we are today in 2015…’

Similarly, you might say, ‘There are 2 clear points of view on this. There are those people over here [step to the left] who think that… [insert view]. Then there are the people here [step to the right] who believe instead that [insert rival opinion].’ You can then steer your audience to your point of view by physically aligning yourself with the left or right camp.

Choreographed moves such as these allow the audience to associate the areas you choose on stage with the times and places and opinions you have described. They also add impact and emphasis to your points.

And once these spaces are named and known, you can even step back into them at a later point in you talk. ‘Back in New York meanwhile…’, you might say, moving back to the right side of the stage.

Boss your slides

Never forget: anything that you use to illustrate your presentation is ONLY support material. As the speaker, you are the most important person in the room (after the audience, of course).

All too often a presenter will stand to the side of the screen, directing most of their energy towards their slides. Why not try spending the majority of the time with your back to your slides instead?

Just as you can take ownership over your space; the same principle can be placed upon your slides. Once you physically touch your slides they become yours and you own them. If you have anything on your slides that your audience needs to see or focus on, then reach out and actually touch it. A laser pointer will never convey the same sense of ownership over your visuals.

Learn from an expert 

Here’s Hans Rosling, the global health expert and data visionary, who’s a brilliant example of a speaker who fully owns his slides… 


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