One of the most effective ways to project confidence and authority is to own the space in which you’re speaking. This is one of those buzz phrases bandied about in public-speaking circles but it’s an important concept and I was reminded of it again the other day when, because of an administrative mix-up, my client and I found ourselves rehearsing in a room that was really too small for the purpose. There was ample space for him to stand at the front and present – even to move around – but the walls were too close for us to be able to visualise the size of audience he would be addressing in real life. He could practise all the techniques of successful public speaking, yet his delivery never properly took off: the compact environment restricted his performance to small-screen rather than cinema-scale.
If you’re going to be making a speech or presentation to a large crowd, it’s essential you rehearse somewhere big enough to allow you to practise owning a large space. So what does this actually mean?
It means opening up your body language to include people who may be quite far away from you, standing up straight, holding your head high and looking out confidently at the whole audience. Your natural gestures are good but you need to be loose enough that you can make big, definite movements rather than small, tight ones. Make eye contact with the people whose eyes you can see and make a point of also looking at those at the back, as if you could connect with them individually. Even if you have a microphone and don’t have to think about volume, focus on speaking to the audience members furthest away – this way, you’ll be sure to encompass everybody.
If at all possible, have at least one run-through in the actual room you’ll be using on the day. It’s hard to own a space that’s unfamiliar to you, so get to know it in advance, what it feels like, whether there are any restrictions you need to beware of as you move around. If you can’t check it out before the day, get there early and explore it then.
When the time comes for you to step up to speak, you don’t want to be inching around tentatively, wondering if you’re going to trip over a wire or bump into the table. Neither do you want to address yourself to the front five rows and leave everyone else feeling ignored. What you do want is to move confidently, connect with all of the audience and metaphorically write your message not in tiny letters in the bottom corner but in big bold print across the entire canvas for everyone to see.