Speaking from a Big Stage

Speaking in large venues isn't the same as speaking in a smaller space and you have to adapt your technique to achieve the best results. Most people are simply concerned about the size of the audience and worry that they will be intimidated. In my experience this is much less of a problem than you might expect because the audience is also further away. There are some other areas where you might find problems that you had not expected but there are some simple best practices to overcome them.

Allow time to get into position.  In a larger venue you might need to walk across the stage to reach the place you will be speaking from. Sometimes nervous speakers start too early, while they are still walking. Before the event starts or during rehearsal practice this entrance, making sure that you wait until you are standing where you plan to start speaking before saying anything. Better still, turn to face the audience and count to three before starting. This helps focus attention and makes sure that people don't miss the start.

Reduce the distance to the audience. Avoid standing behind a table far from the audience. The best plan is usually to stand towards the front of the stage so that you are closer to the first rows, making sure that you can still see the monitor screens that are usually on the edge. Watch out for marks on the stage or a TED-style carpet, which usually indicate where you are expected to be. Don't attempt to go out into the audience unless you have checked first with the production crew to make sure that they have lights and cameras to cover that. This is especially important when the session is video recorded.

Find out how much space you can use. Usually it is good practice to move around sometimes, using the available space, but beware that not all the physical space is usable. During the rehearsal check how much of the stage area is lighted so that you don't accidentally walk into shadow, and make sure that there is no feedback if you move too close to loudspeakers. Ask the organizers how much, if at all, they want you to walk around.

Make gestures big enough to be seen. When some audience members are very far away some small gestures and props might not work so well. During a rehearsal ask someone to stand at the back and check that they can see what you are doing. This is not so critical when there are big screens. In venues where the speaker is also shown on a live video screen you might need to adapt your style slightly. In this case you can make smaller gestures because the camera will pick them up, but at the same time avoid sudden movements which are hard for the camera operator to track. If you plan to show some small prop try to be consistent and deliberate in your movements so that the video crew know what will happen; don't wave something for a few seconds and then put it away or nobody will see it.

Practice at home with a big stage setup. Even when you are practicing at home or in the office try to simulate as much as possible the big stage experience. Place a laptop with your presentation on the floor where the screen monitor will usually be, place a tablet or a phone with a countdown timer on the floor on the other side and always use a clicker. Get used to keeping one eye on the monitors and get used to never turning round to look at the big screen.

In addition to all these practical tips the most important rule is to take advantage of every opportunity that you have to rehearse on the actual stage. If there is a rehearsal before the event never miss it. If there is no full rehearsal then arrive at the venue early and at least try the stage so that you get used to the feel of the venue and find out if there are any potential distractions like echo.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, groups workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about public speaking and influencing in general you can contact Andrew Hennigan on 0046 73 089 44 75 or speaker@andrewhennigan.com

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