Read an Excerpt
C H A P T E R 1 0
Controlling Your Space
We cannot make it rain, but we can see to it that the rain falls on
One of the key determinants of your success as a speaker is
the room in which you speak. You must inspect it carefully
and prepare it as much as possible.
There are three key physical considerations in speaking. They
are (1) sound; (2) light; and (3) temperature. These are the three
areas where things always go wrong in a speaking engagement.
You have heard of Murphy’s Law, which says that whatever can go
wrong, will go wrong. This law was probably discovered by people
who give talks and seminars in hotels and convention facilities.
Know the Lies People Tell
The first rule to know when holding any kind of public speaking
function is that hotels lie. I learned this when I first began speaking
and I have seen it proved over and again, 90 percent of the
time. Hotels lie.
It is almost as if the people who arrange facilities for conventions,
seminars, and speeches have taken a special course in the
various lies, distortions, and half-truths that they tell the meeting
planners and speakers, especially on the day and at the moment
of the presentation.
One of their favorites is ‘‘fire regulations.’’ They always say that
they cannot do or change something because of fire regulations.
The fact is that they do not want to change anything about the
room or the setup. Their claim of ‘‘fire regulations’’ is invariably
false, but it intimidates the inexperienced meeting planner into
Whenever I hear this, I simply say, ‘‘My father is a fire inspector,
and I am quite familiar with the fire regulations. Please show
me where in the regulations it says you are not allowed to arrange
the room in this way.’’ This always stuns them. They immediately
drop the excuse and begin to cooperate. I’ve seen this happen over
and over again, in hundreds of facilities.
‘‘It’s Computer Controlled’’
Another excuse that they give you is that ‘‘The lighting is computer
controlled. There is nothing we can do about it until the engineer
For some reason the engineer is never on the premises or immediately
available. He or she is at a meeting, away on vacation,
or dealing with another emergency.
How to Deal with the Lies People Tell
The key to succeeding in organizing the facilities is for you to be
friendly, polite, and charming but simultaneously gently insistent
with the staff. Your goal must be not to get them mad at you early
in the process. They are the only ones who can help you. But here
are some things you can do to get some results.
Threaten Them If Necessary
One day, I was doing a seminar in Tampa, Florida. The room temperature
was 80 degrees. People were perspiring, waving their
seminar materials as fans, and generally unhappy and dissatisfied.
They were starting to leave and ask for their money back on the
I asked the organizer to call the hotel and have them turn the
temperature down. She called them repeatedly, but to no avail.
They gave all the usual excuses. ‘‘The engineer is working on it; it
is computer controlled; we are doing everything we can.’’
Finally, at the break, I called the head office and told them that
if the temperature did not come down and the air conditioner was
not turned on within two minutes, we would cancel the seminar,
refuse to pay for the room, and sue them for lost revenues. It was
amazing. As I stood there, I could feel the air conditioning coming
on. After pleading with them for two hours and listening to every
excuse imaginable, as soon as we threatened not to pay, the air
conditioning roared on and stayed on for the rest of the function.
Refuse to Pay
I always encourage my clients to call someone in charge and tell
the person, ‘‘We will not pay for the room if the air conditioning
or temperature is not adjusted immediately.’’ In almost every
case, all the technical difficulties that had been holding them back
are suddenly resolved and the temperature is lowered or adjusted
to the proper comfort level.
Check the Lighting
Lighting is very important in a seminar presentation. The total attention
of the audience should be on your face, with only casual
side-glances to your props. Remember that 70 percent of the people
in your audience are ‘‘visuals.’’ They can only process information
if they can see it. The other 30 percent are ‘‘auditories.’’ These
are people who process information only when they can hear it
clearly. Your job is to cater to and satisfy both groups.
Fifty percent of the time, the lighting will be wrong in some
way when you arrive to do your presentation. For this reason, you
always want to arrive early enough so that you can check out the
lighting thoroughly before you go on stage. If something is wrong
with the lighting when you begin to speak, it is almost impossible
to make any changes afterward.
Where to Put the Lights
In stage or TV productions, people spend one or two days in advance
just setting up the lights. They arrange the lighting and
move it around so that there are no shadows on the stage or on
the actors. They make sure that every single person is absolutely
clear to every single participant in the audience, from every angle.
This is the ideal.
As the speaker, you must be fully lit, 100 percent of the time
from both sides so there are no shadows on your face. It is not
unusual for the facility to have lights that beam on you from the
top rather than from the front, shading out the bottom half of your
face. This causes a negative audience reaction.
The Phantom of the Opera
On one speaking occasion at a hotel, we asked for additional lighting
and the hotel told us (remember, hotels lie) that it could only
find one spotlight. The hotel staff brought it into the room and set
it up to one side at the rear of the audience. This spotlight shone
on one half of my face, giving me a ‘‘Phantom of the Opera’’ look
for my entire presentation.
The reaction from the audience was immediate and negative.
People actually became angry. They criticized the talk and demanded
their money back. They walked out. For some reason, the
half-faced lighting made me look sinister and evil and the people
reacted in a negative way. We never made the mistake of having
only one light again.
Your Face Is All-Important
When I organize lighting for a seminar, I tell the technicians that
a person in the back row should be able to see a zit on my face
from where she is sitting. I emphasize that the lighting on the
stage should be as bright as an operating theatre. They often nod
and pretend to agree but secretly think that you don’t know what
you’re talking about. You must therefore be insistent.
In many cases, the staff will set up your stage and podium for
the convenience of the screens rather than to illuminate the
speaker clearly. The staff members will say, ‘‘If we turn on all the
lights, it will wash out the screen.’’ Be alert to this because it happens
all the time. Insist that you don’t care how the screens look.
The light on your face is what counts.
Check in Ahead of Time
I was giving a seminar in Irvine, California, a couple of years ago.
My seminar was for the entire afternoon, and, as usual, I arrived in
the middle of the morning so I could watch the previous speakers.
When I walked into the room, a first-class Hyatt hotel facility,
it was only half lit. It was a form of semidarkness, almost like a
nightclub. The speaker was visible in a hazy, distant sort of way. I
I immediately brought one of the hotel staff members to the
room. I said, ‘‘Is there any way you can turn up the lighting in this
room?’’ He said, ‘‘Oh, did you want the lighting up full?’’
When I said yes, he immediately went to a wall panel, touched
a couple of buttons, and the whole room became fully lit, classroom
style. It was a shock to me and to everyone in the audience.
They had been straining to see and get the message of the speaker
for the last two hours.
It’s Not a Nightclub Performance
This has become a common refrain for me. Whenever I go to a
speaking engagement, I tell them that I want all the lights on full.
I tell them, ‘‘This is not a nightclub performance.’’
It is amazing to me how many professional lighting techni-
cians think that the speaker wants the audience to be darkened
while the speaker is so brightly lit that he or she cannot see people
in the audience because of the glaring light in his eyes. The other
problem with this is that the audience views the speaker more as
an entertainer. People sit quietly to watch the performance, not
wanting to make any noise. They do not respond or interact with
the speaker. The audience sits almost like a mole peering out of
its hole at the speaker lit up on the stage.
Remember, unless you are a professional entertainer in a
nightclub, you want what is called ‘‘one hundred candle power at
desk level.’’ This means that the entire room should be as bright
as a schoolroom. You want people to be able to see one another,
see you clearly, and take notes on the subject you are discussing.
This is essential for audience enjoyment and satisfaction.