3 tips to deal with the room where you speak

When we give a speech or presentation, we usually don’t have any control over the room where we speak. We might be able to move chairs and tables or adjust the lighting, but in general, we have to deal with the room as we find it.

Last week, I went for a walk around the village of Collex in Switzerland where I live. When you walk to from Collex to the neighbouring village of Bossy, the elevation rises noticeably. Because most of the surrounding land is agricultural, you have a magnificent view to the south of the French Alps and the Mont Blanc.

If the sun is shining.

Which it wasn’t.

No, when I went for my walk, it was cloudy and a storm front was moving in. A wind was starting to blow and the mountains were obscured in cloud. It was too bad, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

It made me think of times when I spoke in room where the conditions were suboptimal or worse. I couldn’t change rooms, so there was no point in complaining; I just had to deal with the situation.

As I reflected, I realized that there were parallels between speaking in a bad room and going for a walk on a day when the weather is overcast. So I shot the short video below. In it, I offer three tips to help you deal with the room where you speak.

There will be times when you speak in amazing rooms and there will be times when you speak in awful rooms. Either way, the audience has to deal with the same room as you.

You must ensure that the room is set up in the best way possible. Then, forget about it and give the audience something that is worth their time.


At the end of the video, you will see some information about an event at which I will be speaking in Berlin in September 2019 called Spectacular Speaking. I will be writing a post about it in the near future. In the meantime, you can learn more here.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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6 Responses to 3 tips to deal with the room where you speak

  1. My favorite story about a bad room setup is about Keith Jarrett abd the fantastic Koln Concert done with a horrible piano meant only for opera rehearsals. Tim Harford used it to open a TEDx talk on How Messy Problems Can Inspire Creativity. I blogged about it on January 12, 2016 at Joyful Public Speaking.

  2. Marie Betteley says:

    Thanks John,

    I liked the video and your conclusion. Even on cloudy days, nature is beautiful. It’s because of rain that the view is so green and spectacular. Sometimes the room, even if less than ideal can give character to the presentation. I gave one of my best talks in a room that had no light on the lectern, and…as I had forgotten my glasses, I couldn’t read any of my notes! It was a dining room in a club and the audience very engaged.

    Thanks for the 3 tips on dealing with rooms, Marie

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thank you for the comment, Marie, and well done on making the best of a less than ideal situation. And yes, even on rainy days, the view is still beautiful.

  3. Excellent advice that we should all put into practice. Even when you visit in advance and arrive early on the day after having tested everything – something will still not work as planned. Having prepared you will be able to deal with it. Thank you John for this very sensible and often overlooked advice!

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