Decorate your speaker!

by Peter Urs Bender

Take two equally well-known speakers. Female or male. They both look great. They both dress well. They both have good stage presence. They have both presented many times. But in the opinion of your audience, one of them is a "smash", the other "just came across". Why?

The one who was the lame duck could have been in dark clothing against a dark background. Hard to see. Hard to follow. The voice was OK but not convincing. The one who was a smash had a meeting planner who paid attention to properly decorating the set. What the speaker wore was coordinated with the background. The stage setting was softened with flowers and greenery. The message of the speaker came across clear and crisp through the sound system.

I can guarantee you that the speaker with the better-decorated stage will always have a more powerful impact on your audience that one who has to compete with the environment. This isn't fair, of course. But then, life isn't fair!

To get the maximum impact with any audience a few things have to be in harmony. If you want your presenter to shine, you have to have a closer look at the following three elements:

*Lighting *Background *Total perceived appearance

The speaker doesn't need to see the audience - but the audience needs to see the speaker. It's important, therefore, that all the lights should be directed straight onto the presenter. It could be uncomfortable for the speaker but the question is - do you want to have an impact on the audience? The same holds true in the theatre world - often the light will hurt the actor…but the audience is enlightened.

The lighting should also have a warm tinge to it. It's more enjoyable for the audience to look at. And it compliments the speaker.

If there is a window at the presenter's back, be sure the curtains are closed, particularly on a bright sunny day. Also be sure, there are no "EXIT" signs or any bright wall lights. They will distract the eyes of your audience. It is always the little things that make the big difference.

It should be different from the presenter's clothes. If your speaker dresses in dark clothes, a light background is perfect. If in light clothes, one would need a darker backdrop. Most of the time I myself dress in a dark blue suit. I know I look better in it and most backgrounds I present in are white or beige colored.

Use flowers and greenery to soften the stage setting. It creates a more relaxed, warm and friendlier look. Move them from the corner in the room, or grab them from the hall, and put them behind or slightly to the side of the presenter. I do that all the time and no hotel concierge ever put me in jail. As a matter of fact, most of the time the hotel staff helps me to find all the trees!

Do not use a lectern unless you want to hide the speaker. If you watch important debates on TV, you often see the presenter behind a glass lectern. You can still can see "the whole speaker".

The stage is very important. It should be high enough so the presenter is above the group. But not too high, otherwise the speaker appears to be a god or goddess talking down to the earthlings. Nevertheless, we are more likely to believe a message if we look up, than if we look down. That's because an authority always speaks from above, not from below. It started in childhood. We always believed everything the big people said.

Total perceived appearance
The acoustics of the room must work well. I know, it's not always possible to control this. But the positioning of the stage, platform, and sound equipment will make a real difference.

Take care to ensure that the you have the best possible sound system. Position equipment so there is no microphone feedback. Play soft background music before the speaker starts. But be sure to turn it off when the presenter starts. Otherwise you audience will listen to the music.

A professional speaker will not use a lavalier or lapel microphone. There is much more flexibility with a hand-held mike than with a lapel-mounted one. A hand-held microphone will give far more control over voice modulation. It's not just the words of a speaker that are important…it's also the tone of the voice, in particular the way the voice is modified during the presentation. That is what makes a show more interesting. For more on this topic, please read "The Magic of Voicepower" in the "Articles" section of my website at

Your speaker must also have a proper introduction. Most of the introductions I hear are a waste of time. The say nice things about the upcoming speaker but do not relate to the listener, or to the topic. There is much more on this on my website under "Introductions".

The layout of the room is also extremely important. For a short outline, look on my website, under "Introductions" and click on "Creating the best conditions for your keynote, workshop, or seminar." For a detailed explanation, with diagrams, see pages 172-177 of my book Secrets of Power Presentations. It's on the website, too. Click on the book cover to access it. If you want a complimentary personal copy, click on the "download button" and use the password "Perspectives2003".

"Decorating" your speaker's set will make the big difference. It helps to create that powerful, smashing and impressive presentation. The more you put into it, the better the event will turn out. And all the participants will say: "Wow, what a speaker…." Only you and I know it's the effort you put into it that made it happen!

Peter Urs Bender is one of Canada’s most dynamic and entertaining business speakers. He lives and works out of Toronto. He is the author of four best-selling business books: Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing, Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, and Gutfeeling.
To read excerpts from his books visit