“Theater is essentially a relationship between performer, spectator, and the space in which both come together.”
Gay McAuley, Honorary Professor, Department of Performance Studies, University of Sydney
If you have ever attended a concert, play or any artistic performance, you know that the stage space and how it is used is a critical component to the outcome of the act. There is a connection between how the performer(s) use the space and the overall experience for the audience members. This begs the question: Is it the same in business for any meeting or presentation? I contend the answer is yes. In fact, I believe you can even rewrite the quote above to read: “The meeting is essentially a relationship between leader, participant and the space in which both come together.”
If we believe this to be true, then space becomes one of our greatest tools as leaders. The effective use of the meeting space can support a successful outcome. It can build trust with participants, create an inclusive atmosphere, and a safe environment that allows participants to feel comfortable sharing with peers and fully engaging in the conversation.
So how can we as leaders use our meeting space most effectively? Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t hide from the space. For many leaders, especially those who are new to public speaking, it can be tempting to make ourselves smaller in front of a room by hiding behind inanimate objects. Podiums, tables, even stools are often “abused.” A leader will plant themselves behind or on these objects in an effort to feel more comfortable. The reality is, this behavior creates a physical barrier between the leader and the participant and results in disconnection and even a drop in overall group energy.
- Be aware of your physical distance from the group. Next time you conduct a meeting, notice how far away or how close you are to the individuals in the room. Moving toward a participant when they speak or ask a question can be honoring and validating. Moving too close however, can feel as though you are invading their personal space and can erode the safety in the room.
- Use the whole space. It is important to make every participant (whether they’re sitting in the back of the room or the front of the room) feel welcome and included. Be aware of any tendencies to “play favorites” with one side of the room or one participant. Are you making eye contact with everyone? If you are working with a large group, practice leading from different corners of the room. This can help you stay connected to the whole group and avoid exclusion of any one individual or group of individuals.
- Consider the “intellectual space.” As leaders, it is our job to create a conversation-rich environment in which participants feel comfortable asking questions and engaging in powerful dialogue. “Let silence do the heavy lifting.” Allow participants ample time to think, reflect, ask questions and make meaning of the message(s) you are sharing.
Whether physical or intellectual, it is my experience that by being more fully aware of our space and how we leverage it, we can enrich the outcome of our meetings and become more impactful leaders.
So the next time you’re conducting a meeting or giving a presentation, ask yourself: How can I use this space most effectively? How can I build a relationship between myself, my participants, and the space in which we have all come together?