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Can a Room Kill You? Yes!

by Guila Muir

How to Ensure Your Physical Space Works For You, Not Against You

chairsHave you ever felt that something’s just not working right, no matter how well you know your material, how confident you came in, or how much you practiced? Have you ever felt, throughout your presentation, that something keeps pushing back?

You may be experiencing an attempted “Death by Room.” This malady has knocked many a trainer and presenter to their knees—and kept them there. The disease is preventable. But to overcome it, you must dramatically increase your awareness, long before the first participant walks into the room. Here’s how.

3 Tips to Ensure Your Physical Space Works For You, Not Against You

1. Ask yourself: What do I want?

Do you want a dialogue or a monologue? Is one-way communication most appropriate for your message, or would interaction and participation work best? Many presenters espouse one theory (for example, “participation is good,”) but everything they do communicates a different message (like “sit down and shut up!”)

It’s important to be clear on your philosophy of teaching and learning, and to ensure that your actions support it. The seating arrangement in particular gives a strong statement about your philosophy and your expectations of the participants, from the minute they walk in the door.

TIP: When all chairs point at the presenter, (an arrangement often called “theater” or “classroom” style) the message if clear: you are the only source of information. You may find it difficult to stimulate interaction between participants when they are looking at each other’s backs. Yet this set-up may be appropriate if you actually do want to deliver a message one-way.

If you desire interaction, you must provide a seating arrangement that allows participants to talk easily with one another, as well as with you. This may involve round tables, a “U” shaped set-up, or rectangle tables pushed together to accommodate 6-8 people. If you are forced to use a “theater style” set-up, ensure that participants can move their chairs into small working groups of 3-5.

Make sure that your room set-up supports, not contradicts, your goals.

2. Don’t make assumptions.

Here are a few common assumptions that kill trainers/presenters:

  • “I sent a diagram—I know the room will be set up just like that.”
  • The space doesn’t matter. Content’s the thing.
  • I don’t need to see the room until it’s time for me to start.

TIP: When possible, set up the room yourself (with help, if necessary.) View the room the night before. If this isn’t possible, arrive at least one hour early. Remember, the way your space is organized can impact your presentation as much as your content knowledge.

Find out: Where are the electrical outlets? How will their location affect your set-up? Is the room long and narrow? (If so, try to set it up width-wise instead of lengthwise.) Where is the screen? What happens when you turn on/off the lights? Are you able to change room temperature? If using a microphone or speaker system, familiarize yourself with how they work.

By eliminating your assumptions, you’ll sleep better the night before an important event.

3. Rehearse in the room.

There is no way that a professional actor would work in a space in which he or she had not practiced. Professional trainers and presenters make the room their own by visiting it, testing it, and practicing in it.

TIP: Deliver the first 3-5 minutes of your presentation. Check the acoustics. Does the room absorb your voice, or can it carry with ease? Walk around the area from which you will present. What parts of the room could be blocked from view? Remember that all participants must be able to see you at all times.

Hum in the room, sing in the room, do jumping jacks in the room…make it your own, so that you feel 100% comfortable, both physically and emotionally, long before the first participant appears.

Can a room kill you as a presenter? YES—but only if you allow it to. You can prevent “Death by Room” by attending to these three easy steps.

Read more articles about Training Development. Learn about Guila Muir’s Trainer Development Workshops.

Guila Muir is the premiere trainer of trainers, facilitators, and presenters on the West Coast of the United States. Since 1994, she has helped thousands of professionals improve their training, facilitation, and presentation skills. Find out how she can help transform you from a boring expert to a great presenter: www.guilamuir.com

© Guila Muir.