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.

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  1. 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!

  2. 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.


    1. 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. 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.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

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Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

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General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

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Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

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Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International