Mastering the Location

Learning Objectives

Describe techniques for adapting to the physical location of a speech.

Whenever you know you have to speak in a specific place, gather as much information as possible about the speaking space so that you can be prepared and make adjustments that fit the location. Always ask to have time to be in the space before the actual speech to do a rehearsal if time allows.

An event space with a ping-pong table and chairs in a circle

It’s good to get a sense of the room layout ahead of time, since certain spaces can require some adjustments.

What kinds of information should you acquire when you’ve been asked to speak? See the checklist of questions to ask your host below for a speech that is booked in advance.

  1. What is the size of the room? (Knowing the size of the room will allow you to adjust your visual aids to be seen in that room. It also allows you to consider how loudly you will need to speak to be heard.)
  2. How many people are expected to be in the audience? (Having this information allows you to prepare visuals that can be seen by the size of the audience anticipated. It also helps to know this information if you intend to pass out handouts, etc. You should also try to get the information about your audience demographics and their beliefs, attitudes, and values toward your subject. More on this in another section.)
  3. What is the audio-visual equipment available to be used and who will operate it? (This is critical to the success of the speech delivery. Find out how your visual aids can be displayed; if you can use PowerPoint or Google Slides; and if there’s a projector, pointer, etc.; and if you will be operating the slides or someone else will. You should also find out if microphones are used and/or expected. This will mean adjusting the movement of your speech if it is a handheld microphone that is corded or adjusting your voice volume if you are wearing a lavalier microphone on your lapel, etc.)
  4. Is there a podium? (Podiums are places where a speaker can set down their notecards. They are also sometimes near the console to operate the room’s computer. If you don’t want the podium, find out if it is removable.)
  5. When is a possible time to access the room and have a rehearsal? (Always ask for time to be in the space before the audience arrives to see the room layout, test your visuals, and set levels for your sound and speaking voice. If there are separate operators for sound and visuals, they should be at the rehearsal as well.)

For those speaking occasions when you don’t have any information and just have to walk into the space and speak, what should you be prepared for? Everything!

Overhead projectors

It’s a good idea to have a plan if the AV equipment doesn’t work or if it’s incompatible with your presentation method. Unless you’ve brought transparencies (!), a whole room full of overhead projectors won’t help.

Always have backups for your visual aids. If you’ve prepared a PowerPoint presentation or hope to show video clips, bring your own laptop just in case, but hope that you can use whatever equipment is on site. Put your visuals on a backed-up zip drive so that you can easily transfer it to whatever device or system may be in the room if a laptop connection is not available. Bring a printout of your visuals in case everything else fails and copies can be made as handouts. Have a plan for if your video doesn’t play or was suddenly taken down from YouTube. Prepare a summary of what the clip contained so you can at least narrate what would have happened or have a backup clip in mind so you can switch to it easily.

When you walk into the space, do a quick assessment of the number of audience seats and where they are located. This assessment is for your eye contact and vocal delivery purposes. As quickly as possible, get to wherever you will be operating your visual aids from and turn on everything and see if you can figure out how to operate it all. If not, try to get assistance from someone on site. It is better to lose a few minutes of speaking time and be able to do all you’ve planned than not.

If you feel like the place you are asked to speak from is really far from the audience, don’t be afraid to ask if the audience seating can be quickly reconfigured.

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