A few years back, I was working with an entrepreneur who had been asked to deliver a keynote at a large start-up conference in London. Thousands of people were in attendance and speaking that day was Eric Schmidt, who at the time was Chairman of Alphabet, and Founders from the likes of Shazam and Deliveroo etc.
We spent weeks preparing the talk and working out what is was we were going to deliver. On the day, we arrived an hour before his talk was due to start and we snuck in at the back of the theatre while the previous session was running to get a feeling of the room.
Thank goodness we did...
It was an 800 person seater room, and it was almost empty. 25 people scattered around the back of the room and the atmosphere was dead (probably because Eric was speaking on another stage!).
What would you do if you found yourself in that situation?
The speaker on stage decided that their plan was to carry on as normal. After all, the show must go on, right? The problem is, that show sucked!
So we stepped back outside, and we made a plan.
After being introduced by the compere, this is what they said:
'Before we start, I'd like every single one of you to stand up,
pick up all your stuff, and come down to this corner of the room.
We do not need all this space!'
And then they stepped off the stage so that they were the same level as everyone else and continued as normal.
By bunching everyone together, the room went from feeling empty to warm, it created an intimacy between the speaker and the audience and everyone in there felt part of something special.
But something else happened that we could not have predicted... the audience size had tripled by the end of the talk. Attendees popping their heads in at the back of the theatre got curious and decided that they wanted a piece of the action.
One of the original 25 audience members that day happened to be the founder of Prezi, the presentation software, and it turns out that he was speaking next!
The first thing he said?
'This is going to be a tough act to follow!'
The point is, you could be the most charismatic, thought-provoking and inspiring presenter in the world, but if you can't master your environment, your hard work will have been for nothing.
This is a skill that I have defined as Performance Intelligence. It's so important, that it takes up a whole module of my Public Speaking Accelerator Pro.
Performance intelligence is about being able to create a connection with your audience, irrespective of the number of people you're presenting to and the circumstances that you find yourself presenting in.
And the first rule of performance intelligence is...
To make the room feel busy.
If you're delivering a presentation in a room that hasn't been set up properly, it is your responsibility to do something about it. If you don't, your presentation will suffer the same fate as everyone else's.