It’s not just WHAT you say, but WHERE you say it

professional speakers

As a speechwriter for C-Suite executives and senior government bureaucrats, as well as for NGO clients, my responsibilities go far beyond creating compelling drafts.  Or crafting PowerPoint slides.  Or rehearsals.  If you are a speaker yourself, you too need to go beyond being only concerned with the words coming out of your mouth - and pay extra attention to other equally important issues.

Let me give you an example.  Most speakers, understandably, work very hard at crafting the perfect presentation.  As they should.  But sometimes they get so concentrated on themselves that they don’t think about the event they are attending and who will be in the audience.

Let’s start with the physical venue.

You really need to know a lot about the space you are walking into.  Will your speech be delivered outside or inside? If it is outside, you should pay a site visit beforehand to check out what possible noise distractions you will be contending with.  Heavy traffic?  Trains?  Honking horns? Extraneous people noises coming from human activities near the venue.  The venue is halfway around the world you say?  Well that’s what Google Maps was invented for and of course you phone the on-the-ground organizers and ask them “what’s going on outside” questions.

In the same fashion, if the function is being held inside, what are the distractions you will have to contend with?  Distractions that you will have little control over.  If the venue is at a hotel and the room you are in is next door to the kitchen – or the bar – then you know if you are speaking close to the lunch hour or happy hour, you will have a lot of noise competition to deal with.  Also, make sure to ask organizers if there is any hotel construction going on.  And if there are simultaneous presentations being held in the rooms adjacent to yours, you might want to check with them on the soundproofing between the rooms.

You also need to ask a lot of questions about the size of the room you are speaking in, and the size of the audience you are addressing.  This can have a tremendous influence on the formality or informality of your presentation.  For example, if you are speaking to a small group of 25 or less, in a small room, you can make your remarks quite informal.  What I like to do in those cases is sit on the edge of a desk or table - rather than standing behind a podium. If you are speaking to a small group but you are in a large room, make sure to get everyone to move down to the front so you can preserve the informality.

If you are speaking to a substantially larger group  – that suggests a more formal presentation and you will likely be behind a podium or up on a stage.  And that formality definitely impacts your choice of words and phrasing.

If you are standing behind a podium, will there be a microphone available?  If so, is it a walk-around lavalier mike or is it permanently affixed to one spot.  Have you ever given a talk with a mike?  It’s a different experience – and certainly will influence how you plan to throw your voice in comparison to not having a mike available.

Are you sending your PowerPoint slides to organizers ahead of time or bringing them along on your own stick?  Will you be able to arrive early to make sure the slides are all working fine.  And by the way, who is changing the slides throughout the presentation.  You?  An assistant with you?  Someone from the organization?

Will the room be totally dark so your slides are easily visible or will they be washed out in a room that remains fairly light?  Knowing this is very important because it may affect your decisions on the background colour of your slides and the colour of your fonts.  The lighter the room, the more critical this is.

Will you be able to do a trial run at the event?  Will organizers have a technician there to help you in case there are technical problems or are you expected to muddle through on your own?

And if worse becomes worst, and the PowerPoint setup is just not working, then are you prepared to deliver your presentation without it?  You always should be so prepared because at one time or another – equipment will fail.

The short story is this.  If you walk into an event without knowing chapter and verse about the venue in which you are speaking, you are just asking for trouble.  So do your homework upfront.  It will definitely help with the crafting of the right words for the right audience.

It is equally critical that you know a little about audience expectations and how a little forethought can prevent a mountain of grief once you are up on the stage.  We will cover that in Part II.

Colin Moorhouse has been providing freelance speech writing services to clients for over two decades. “His” speeches have been delivered at venues all over the world and he teaches the craft online and in the classroom. You can sign up for his free speech writing newsletter at


Photo Credit: “André Goerres”