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It's All in the Details

The more public speaking I do, the more I realize how much can go wrong: On a bad day it's mind boggling and enough to prompt you to swear off speaking. As a result, proper stage managing seems overwhelming. There are endless details to worry about. Most speakers make the mistake of approaching this task in parts. For example, if they are using visual aids, they may check the equipment carefully but not focus on which seating arrangement is best for showing slides.

Even seasoned professionals can look bad if they have not checked out everything. A well-known media personality and musician was the featured speaker at a recent conference I attended. Although he should have known better, he broke almost every rule of persuasive speaking. His notes were on lightweight onionskin paper, and the lectern was not wide enough to hold both the read and unread sheets, so there was constant juggling and rattling. After he spoke, he brought his messy notes over to the piano with him, and laid them precariously on top. When he hit the climactic chord, the papers cascaded noisily to the floor. Needless to say, he lost the confidence of the audience. People were actually laughing. A few minutes of thought and planning could have saved the day.

Comprehensive stage managing is best, and that means having a sense of all that you need to check up on. This chapter spells out the many details speakers have to attend to; a thorough checklist is included at the end. Stage managing is an administrative responsibility. A polished, memorable performance, whether in the theater or at a convention, is only the tip of the iceberg. The final, smooth performance is visible, and all the preliminary effort is not, even though the memorable words would not be possible without the stage managing.

George Bernard Shaw once said, "People who get on in this world are the people who get up, look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them." A well-managed room is one you set up in the way most advantageous to you.

Obviously you won't be able to control or to change all the circumstances that you face, but you can change many of the basic ones speakers often overlook. That's true even if you are part of a symposium or are sandwiched between other managers during a corporate presentation.


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