Learn Stage Lighting

Dear Mr Speaker – Keynote Speaker Training OSL Style

In a free conference speaker training course, we are going to look at life from the other side of the lectern. As part of our Keynote Speaker Awareness Week, we are going to empathise with with this desperate bunch and remember importance of visibility on stage.

Please turn off your mobile phones.

Dear Mr Speaker,

Yes, I know it’s hard, being the star of the Sales Division Kick Off. Company profits are down, the CEO is on your back as Head of Regional Sales (Rutland) to get your chaps all singing from the same song sheet, leveraging your synergies and thinking outside the box.

So, you’ve got great plans. The management team is onboard. All you need to do as the keynote speaker is to communicate your grand design to the 600 suits assembled at the Winsor Suite of the Rutland Intercontinental (near the A378, by the Little Chef). These turkeys need to understand, they need to see it your way and be in no doubt as to how they should proceed to flog more gear.


OK, let’s see what you’ve got so far.

The Powerpoint deck you’ve spent weeks on waits eagerly, ready to bring the first name slide proclaiming the all powerful job title that you have arse-kissed for 10 years to get. Animation will never be the same again, not after they’ve seen these beauties.

You’ve agonised over content, scripts and worked out how to stand on stage nonchalantly, hand in pocket, without looking like you are playing with yourself.

Everything is ready.

The secret to good communication

The black clad ninjas that dap around the grey carpetted stage say they are ready. You speak. It’s odd hearing your voice coming back at you with a delay. So you say “ It sounds funny to me, can you hear me at the back?”. The ninjas say carry on and disappear again into the darkness.

But wait.

Looking up from your notes at the lectern, something terrible has been wreaked upon you. There is a light, no two, and it’s dazzling you. The more you look at it, the more dazzling it becomes until you finally turn away, toward the screen and your favourite slide with the Venn diagram. “I don’t remember those purple spots?”

You stop, look at the light again and enquire after the possibility of dowsing the two offenders. Not all of the lights (you’re not unreasonable) just that one and the one on the other side. They are the worst, let’s lose them.

The ninjas get a little agitated. There is manic whispering in the dark. One of them speaks “We’ll do our best but those are your lights, I’m afraid” How ridiculous. This place must have more than 60 lights, you only want to get rid of two – in percentage terms, a meagre amount.

Mr Speaker, let me assure you that the ninjas have only the best intentions. They are fully “onboard” with your restructuring plans and can’t wait for you to share them with the masses. They also know the importance of communication.

You need lighting, dammit

In order for you to communicate your message to a room of 600 delegates, the great unwashed need to be able to see you clearly. Hey, you pride yourself in being a people person, able to win the sceptical over with your special eye sparkle and the elbow squeeze – right? If you are going to be able to squeeze the ranks of chairs filled with drowsy delegates, it’s no good hiding in the dark.

Light needs to fire from the source, bounce off you and make it all the way up the room to the guys you rely on to deliver on those Q1 targets. For this to happen, the light needs to come at you pretty hard and it’s something that professional performers have to put up with. They know that in order for them to become a real star, the adoring public need to engage with them on stage. And seeing is a good chunk of the engagement equation. And being able to see someone as they speak, assists comprehension and audibility. Yes, you really do seem louder when we can see you, Mr Speaker.

The reason that only two lights are dazzling as you grimly grip the lectern, is that those are the light sources that make engagement possible. Without them, you look like some kind of character from a shadow play, not the strong, and confident leader addressing the troops.

The lights might not be quite so annoying if they were fixed higher in the air. But unfortunately, the Winsor Suite of the Rutland Intercontinental has only a 12ft ceiling height and no facility for hanging lighting equipment overhead. This isn’t an excuse but just so you know. Perhaps after this years performance, the CEO will let you book the O2 for your keynote next year.

But, if you want to act the big shot after bouncing up on stage shouting “Good evenin’ Rutland! Are Yoo Awight?”, you need to act like a pro and put up with the trappings of your exhalted position. If it’s good enough for Robbie Williams, surely you can cope with a couple of lights.

Don’t stand in the dark


Now, you might feel you have a better solution. Moving slightly to one side, you notice that those pesky lights are not bothering you now. In fact, at one point you decided to really engage with the crowd and stand with your toes poking over the edge of the stage and leaned right forward, real communication. That felt good didn’t it, Mr Speaker? You reached out to the huddled masses and also found comfort away from the photon emitting pests. Great.

The trouble is, in the both the above scenarios, you disappeared from view. Your face was sucked into a black hole and the most important part of your speech went with it. I can personally guarantee that if you can’t feel the lights on your face, you can’t be seen. Using this knowledge to your advantage is what pro performers call “finding your light”.

So, like I said. I know it’s hard and every sympathy is with you but let’s all remember why we are here. We are here to communicate your message to those who will be instrumental in your next move toward Global Sales Director. Having spent weeks on the slides, the script and choosing your outfit, don’t forget the basics of good communication – not hiding.

The ninja has spoken.

If you feel that this was the most valuable piece of keynote speaker training you have every received, please feel free to get in touch with On Stage Lighting and we will let you know where to send the cheque. With professional speaker trainers earning hundreds of pounds a day by picking holes in your delivery, you might a least buy us a beer or two.

  1. Kjetil

    Don’t look directly at the lights. They’ll blind you. It may take a bit of practice to stop focusing on them, but it’s basically the whole trick.

  2. jg

    Great article – had similar “issue” lighting bands that have never played on stage before. Out of interest does anyone know if the MCM versions of the Source 4 par’s put out noticeably less heat on performers than the standard versions ? Is it enough to make a real difference ?

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