When to Own the Room—When Not To

"The job interview was over," the executive recruiter said, "before it began."

The candidate, a highly qualified physician, had taken over the waiting room: laptop open, papers strewn about, feet on the table.

When the recruiter approached, he was talking loudly on his cell—and waved her away. The recruiter assumed it was a medical emergency. It wasn't. He was making weekend plans for golf . . .

How much space do you take up? Be careful when it's not your room.

But you can also get too small. Suppose, for example, you're in front of an audience, making a presentation.

Well, like it or not, you're on stage, and you need to fill it. Get large. Own the room:

1) Avoid the podium. Let's say you're the 5th presenter at a meeting, and the first four stand behind the podium. As you walk up to speak, that podium will have a strong gravitational pull.

Resist. Your audience wants to see you; the more they see, the better. Get large.

2) Move. I recently watched a senior executive speak for 20 minutes without moving an inch.

She looked frozen, as if the room were filled with wild animals, about to attack. That's the "Oh, no, I'm talking to an audience of grizzly bears!" look.

That's not a good look.

So move, and when you do, be decisive. Is it time to begin? Then walk to the front of the room and begin. Don't hesitate.

3) When you get a question, step forward, towards the audience.

That beats stepping back (which looks like a retreat), or running around the room in circles (which looks intriguing, but strange).

4) Keep your hands in front of your body, out of your pockets, and away from your hair and face.

5) Gesture. Gestures come in three sizes—small, medium, large. Vary yours.

If you were seated at a table, a small gesture would be pointing towards the water pitcher. Medium would be reaching to get it. Large would be knocking it over with enough force to send it flying across the room.

Not to boast, but I'm extremely skilled at the latter.

6) Look at individuals. Check in: "How are you doing over there?" your eyes say.

If you think of your audience as a "they," you'll be out-numbered. Instead, see individuals. There is no "they."

7) Speak louder. Speak as though the room were twice as large, and you wanted to be heard—all the way in the back. Speak as though you had a voice of thunder. Speak as though your message mattered.

Tip: How much space do you take up? It matters. Expand or contract, as needed.


Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com), Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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