Choreograph Your Speech

by Stephen Boyd | November 30, 2003

We usually think of choreography in connection with plays or dance routines; I believe, however, that we can choreograph our speeches as well! Where we place ourselves during our speeches can have a great impact on how audiences respond to our messages. Here are some suggestions on how to choreograph your next speech.

To start your presentation, stand where you are equally distant from all members of the audience as much as possible. That is usually the center and front of the room, but if you have an unusually shaped room you may want to stand at the beginning of the speech to the left or right of the lectern—wherever each audience member has an equal opportunity of hearing and seeing you as you speak. That spot should be the focus of your position. Move away at times for emphasis or to change direction in your speech, but come back to that initial position so that you will not be favoring some portion of the audience by where you stand. Everyone in the audience wants to be included in your speech and your physical position helps insure this for the audience.

Stand to the left of the screen from the viewpoint of the audience when using slides. This may not be physically possible if the equipment is built-in to the speaking room, but do so if convenient. We typically read from left to right on a page, so standing to the left of the screen allows the audience ease in reading the material on the slide.

Take a step toward your audience when you want to emphasize a point—not away from them. Moving a step into your audience is a visual punctuation mark to the point you are making. Pacing as you speak is as distracting as a plethora of unnecessary punctuation in a sentence.

Never turn your back to the audience when using props or slides. Be familiar enough with the front of the room so that you can take a step back to the screen or the prop without tripping over chairs or tables. If you turn and face the screen, not only does the audience see just your backside, but you then have to reestablish rapport when you turn to face the group again.

Even if you speak from behind a lectern, avoid staying there through the entire speech. Make it a point to stand to the side or in front of the lectern at times so that you seem more open to the audience. This is especially important when you are taking questions. Standing without a physical barrier in front of you makes you seem more open to the audience and they will be encouraged to listen to you and ask questions.

If there is a section of the audience that does not seem to be listening as carefully as the rest of the audience and if there is conversation going on as you speak, moving into their space for just a few moments will often encourage them to give up their conversation and will bring their attention back to you.

Where you stand certainly is not a part of your speech content, but knowing these different possibilities can make your content impact your audience positively.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at http://www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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