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Secrets to "Owning the Room"

By Stephanie Scotti

You may be surprised to learn that, with rare exceptions, your audience is rooting for you. Every time you step up to speak, they want you to succeed.

If you’re ever witnessed a comedian bomb or a singer hit a "pitchy" note, you’ll know exactly what I mean. The audience shudders with embarrassment for the performer. They want the person on stage to be entertaining —that’s why they came.

The same holds true for a speaker giving a presentation. Your audience wants you to succeed, even if for no other reason than they feel that your presentation was a good use of their time.

To make them proud, you must "own the room." Sound like a tall order? I’ll let you in on four secrets for creating a presence that radiates ownership the next time you speak at a board meeting, product launch or trade show:

1. Rehearse.
Most times, what we write doesn’t translate well to the spoken word —and you won’t that know until you hear it. By rehearsing, you’ll lessen the chance of stumbling on tricky language.

It takes from three to five rehearsals on average to really nail your presentation. The first two will give you the chance to rework and refine, leaving the remaining sessions to polish your pacing and timing. Final rehearsals should include any media that will support your presentation, and if at all possible rehearse in the actual location where you’ll be presenting.

2. Do Your Advance Work.
Arrive early enough to walk around the presentation room, making sure it’s set up the way you want. If something isn’t the way you need it to be —an extra table for handouts, for example —you’ll have time to get it fixed or implement "Plan B." Advance work helps you establish a comfort level, helping you feel more in control and able to visualize a successful presentation.

3. Transform the Room.
Unlike the two secrets above, this one is purely mental. Close your eyes for a moment and shift your thinking. This is no longer a ballroom, or a boardroom or a trade show exhibition hall€¦it’s your living room. And the audience, each and every one of them, is a welcome guest.

Just as you would greet guests at your home, adopt the same attitude in welcoming listeners to your presentation. This change of perspective allows you to project confidence and manage the dynamics of the room. After all, you’re the host.

4. Develop a Ritual.
Similar to many professional athletes, experienced speakers often perform a "pre-game" ritual to getting into performance mode. What can you do to mentally prepare yourself prior to stepping on stage? It can be as simple as introducing yourself to a handful of audience members beforehand so you feel as if you’re talking to people you know.

My own ritual includes carefully listening to the introduction so I am ready to walk briskly and enthusiastically to the stage, then turning to look at the audience for a moment and greeting them as I would welcome someone into my home.

If you’re a student of presentation techniques, you may see mention of "owning the stage." But why settle for just the stage? Follow these four simple steps to extend your personality and sense of leadership so they encompass the entire room, and in the process you’ll take your presentation skills from good to exceptional.

Stephanie Scotti (smscotti@professionallyspeaking.net) is a strategic communication advisor specializing in helping people deliver winning presentations. To learn more, visit professionallyspeaking.net.