Perfect stage set up

19 05 2015

I got an email today from a friend wanting me to visit TEDx in Glasgow with him. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be able to make it.

It did inspire me to waste 20 minutes by watching a TED talk. The thing that struck me most (because I didn’t pick a particularly interesting talk) was just how brilliantly they set up the stage for the speaker.

This is a wonderful stage to be faced with as a speaker. I wish all of my stages were as well set up as this.

1. Lighting
This stage has been brilliantly lit. The producers have two concerns here. Firstly the stage needs to look good for the audience in the auditorium but more importantly there needs to be bright sections so the cameras can film the action clearly.

How did they ensure that their speakers remain in the brightly lit section? The red carpet.


The speakers are told to not step off the carpet.

When I am performing I always get someone to check for dark spots on the stage in the rehearsals. I will then place gaffer tape on the floor to help me stay out of those spots during my performance. Often the very front of the stage is the darkest place. It doesn’t make any sense to you whilst you’re on the stage but the closer you get to the audience the harder you can become to see. Checking and then taping helps me avoid this.

2. Pacing
The other advantage the carpet gives is it stops people nervously pacing to and fro.

If you are a pacer by placing tape on the floor, perhaps three X’s, you can stop yourself mindlessly pacing to and fro by allowing yourself to move calmly between a set number of places on the stage. In the theatre plays are “blocked out”. the actors are told where they should be at certain times. These places are sometimes indicated with tape and known as “marks” or “spikes”. Actors are expected to be able to “hit their mark”. You can do the same.

3. Talking at slides
Talking at slides is such a common thing to do that sound engineers will pin your microphone on to the lapel of the shoulder you will most likely be looking over during your talk.

How do the TED producers stop this? They provide two “confidence monitors” at the foot of the stage.

Can you see them on the floor? With confidence monitors it is now easier for the speaker to glanced down then to turn and look over their shoulder.

When I am speaking I use a Mac, running Keynote, and I engage presenter view. I also bring with me a 10 meter VGA extension cord which allows me to place my laptop in front of me rather than leave it on the lectern.

This allows me to see what’s on the screen behind me without having to turn around.

3. Sticking to time
Look at the picture above. Can you see there is also a countdown clock to keep the presenter talking to time?

In situations where I can’t see a clock showing the correct time I use an iPad with a countdown application to mimic this. I can set it up so the clock changes colour when I have five minutes remaining. Putting it at the foot of the stage means whilst the audience can’t see it, I can’t miss it.

I will also ask the producers what time they need me to finish by the time on my wristwatch. I will then leave myself an easy to read note with the time clearly displayed so I can finish exactly on time.

4. The lectern
I was surprised to see this lady so reliant on her notes. Normally TED producers don’t allow you to use notes. What the producers have done brilliantly though is ensure that the lectern doesn’t allow her to hide behind her notes.

Instead of using a large heavy and often branded lectern that people can grab hold of and hide behind they’ve used a simple table with a flat top that doesn’t restrict our view of her whole body.

If I need to use notes I will place them on a flat table rather than prop them up on a lectern. This allows me to take a quick glance rather than having to walk behind the lectern and make a big deal about looking at them.

5. The screen
They use the screen to great effect because the image on the screen adds to what the audience can see. There is no point using a camera to project an image of the stage onto a screen that is actually smaller than the image the audience sees from their seats.

If you are going to make use of a big screen make sure it adds to what the audience can see and doesn’t just act as a distraction.

If I am being filmed for the benefit of the audience in the auditorium I will make this point very clear to the film crew.

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