Controlling The Room Environment

To maximize your effectiveness as a speaker it is of paramount importance that you control the environment in which you will be speaking as much as possible. Your environment can certainly include things like the room temperature and lighting. But it will also include a lot of other factors you may not have considered previously.

Anything that can influence your onstage performance falls under the classification of your environment. Some may be considered major and others minor, but all can affect how well your message is received by the audience and, if you are selling from the platform, how well you sell.

We are talking about things like:

  • Sound quality
  • Your introduction
  • Internet connections
  • Clicker
  • Banging doors
  • Q & A sessions
  • Testimonials from the audience
  • Intro and exit music
person discussing while standing in front of a large screen in front of people inside dim-lighted room

Sound Quality

I have seen too many speakers show up too close to the scheduled start of their presentation. So the audio crew is slapping a microphone on them at the last minute and there is not enough time to do a proper sound check prior to the speaker taking stage. And then they wonder why the audio quality sucks during their presentation.

That is why you should get to an event well in advance of any scheduled presentation. If you speak before lunch find out when the audio crew will be in the room either the night before or the morning of your scheduled presentation so a

proper sound check can be done. If you speak after lunch then check things out during the lunch break. Find out specifically where on your clothing you should affix the microphone for best sound.

Also, walk the stage when you are mic’ed up to check for spots you should avoid walking during your presentation. Spots where interference is caused and the audience would get a loud “shriek” or other earsplitting sound that will detract from your presentation. Know the “hot spots” going in and you will have a better sounding presentation throughout your speech.

Your Introduction

Should you pre-write the introduction you want the event emcee or whoever will be introducing you to the audience to read? In a word—yes. Does that mean every person who does your intro over the course of your speaking career will read it word for word? Of course not. But if you do not have something for the emcee to follow and they “wing” it who

knows what you are going to get. So write something out and get it to the proper person enough in advance so they can at least familiarize themselves with what they will be saying about you.

If you have a colleague at an event who has done a great job of introducing you at a previous event then the event promoter may let that person do your intro rather than the event emcee. If the audience already knows, likes and trusts your colleague that can be a fantastic idea. But if your colleague is someone they won’t be familiar with you are better off utilizing the event emcee.

Regardless of who will be doing your intro, do NOT make it a complete autobiography. I have seen many speakers lose their audience before they ever uttered their first word on stage.

How? With an introduction that went on and on and on and on and on. You get the idea. Many speakers think they need to credentialize themselves on stage much more then they need to. The audience is interested in what is in it for them and the minutes on how wonderful you are and the great things you’ve done just does not do it for them. The fact that you are on the stage in the first place pretty much provides you with all the credentials you need.

The Fact that You Are on Stage Provides You With Important Credentials

Bret Ridgway

And, if I hear another speaker say “I don’t say this to impress you, but rather to impress upon you…” then I might be sick. A two to three minute introduction should be satisfactory and the primary focus should be on what your audience is going to learn, not on how great you are. Some speakers have gone to video introductions to exercise maximum control over their introductions. You will have to decide if this is right for you.

Internet Connection

Never ever ever ever do a presentation where you are relying on a live Internet connection to show something to the audience. This is one of those things in your environment that you have very little control over. I have seen too many presentations ruined by a lost or a very slow Internet connection. You are taking an unnecessary chance anytime you try to go live online.

The way you control this factor is to use screen shots from the web in your presentation rather than the live shot. It works as well and you don’t run the risk of looking the fool with connectivity issues. Internet connections in meeting rooms can also be very expensive—hundreds of dollars per day. So you may also be asking the event promoter to incur an additional expense just for you that could have been avoided.


Another seemingly minor factor that can cause you major headaches is the simple clicker. If you are utilizing a PowerPoint in your presentation then in all likelihood you will be controlling your PowerPoint with a wireless clicker. Be sure to test the clicker in advance of your presentation so you understand fully its range and exactly where you should point it when you are ready to advance to your next slide.

Banging Doors

A smart event promoter tries to control audience access to the meeting room through a pre-selected set of doors. They do this for several reasons. One reason is that it gives them the ability to do a better job of greeting their audience by knowing what doors they will be entering the meeting room through. Another reason is it enables them to force the crowd to pass by the sales table whenever they are exiting the room.

During your presentation people will invariably be coming in or going out of the room and if the door bangs noisily shut every time someone passes through it can be a major distraction to the participants. You want them focusing their attention on you and not turning to look and see who is coming in or going out every time they hear the door.

There are a couple of low tech solutions you can suggest to an event promoter if you see that the doors could be a

problem. First, you can suggest they tape the push bar of the exit door(s) shut. This does not hinder exit access in any way but does silence the noisy push bar that people hear when the door is being opened.

But then the door closes, sometimes with a loud bang. So the second thing you can suggest is simply throwing a towel over the top of the door to cushion things when the door shuts. Simply eliminating these two potential distractions can help you to better control your environment.

Q&A Sessions

Should you take questions during your presentation? In all but rare cases I would say no. Turning control of the microphone over to someone in the audience is the quickest way to lose control of your presentation. Invite them to meet you at the sales table if they have any questions or to come and talk with you during a break.

You should already have a sense of what questions people will ask you about your topic and you should have the answers to the questions you are most frequently asked already worked into your presentation.

Testimonials From The Audience

Like Q & A sessions, soliciting testimonials from the audience about your products or services is an area fraught with potential problems. First, you must alert the event promoter ahead of time if you will have need of a microphone in the audience at some point in your presentation. Otherwise, you can have a few awkward moments of silence while they are scrambling around for a microphone.

Even if you have made all the arrangements in advance you are still turning over control of your room to someone else when you give them a microphone. Just like we spoke of introductions that can go on and on I have also seen testimonials get totally out of control and last way too long. Sometimes it is hard to wrest back control of the microphone.

If you are going to use live testimonials you must carefully chose who you are going to use. Give them clear guidelines on how much time they will have when you go to them for their testimonial and make sure you know what they are going to be saying ahead of time so you don’t get any unexpected surprises.

Intro and Exit Music

Music can have a powerful impact on people. Properly selected music played as you are getting ready to take the stage or when you have just finished and are exiting the stage can help you to create some real excitement in the room.

You can help by selecting music you feel best fits with your presentation. A smart promoter will be more then happy to accommodate your musical requests.

In Conclusion

While there are some factors in your environment you may have little or no control over, such as the room temperature and event lighting, you can see there are a number of other factors you may exercise some control over. Remember, the better you control your overall speaking “environment” the better are your chances for success.

[This is an excerpt from the book ABC’s of Speaking]

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