Presenting from the Pit

Posted on April 23, 2010

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One of the most difficult situations for most presenters is discovering that they must deliver their remarks from “the pit.”  Typically, the pit is an auditorium-style university classroom with tiered seating for a few hundred eager faces with no stage, no dais and no lectern for the presenter — just floor space at the deep end of the room. 

This setup is difficult because the speaker has no natural anchor point from which to present and move, no place to rest his or her hands and little abililty to look anywhere but up.  How can the presenter confront and conquer this arrangement?  Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Hold a folder, clipboard or other relatively inflexible object in one hand while you present. The object becomes your anchor and a reference point for gestures. Use your free hand to gesture and occasionally (not repeatedly) switch hands to reach out to other areas of the audience.
  • Try standing with one foot very slightly in front of the other to avoid a tendency to shift, sway or pace. This position also enables you to take a step or two toward the audience in a natural way.
  • Remember the folks at the top of the room. Step back to gain their line of sight and gesture slightly more broadly when addressing them.
  • Take advantage of the open setup to visually place “pro” and “con” arguments in the room. When addressing the benefits of a proposal, you might walk and gesture to the right side of the pit. When discussing drawbacks, to the left. You can also use this space to help visualize the concept of a timeline (“When we began way back here five years ago….”) or a multipart program.
  • Incorporate demonstrations into your presentation. You can constructively use the space around you to illustrate a process or to operate with physical props.
  • Involve members of your audience. Bring them forward and engage in one-to-one discussion to illustrate or expand on the key points of your presentation.
  • Interact with video on your screen. While seemingly a violation of the cardinal rule forbidding presenters from looking back at their screen, consider incorporating video segments in your PowerPoint presentation in which an individual raises a question or makes a point in a manner that allows you to respond live from the pit. This type of two-way conversation between presenter and video image requires space, and you have it in the pit.
  • Presenting from the pit need not be a pitiful situation if you use the space and configuration to your advantage.

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