Whenever I'm going to give a talk, almost anywhere around the country, I try to get into the venue early, before anyone else is there, and feel the space. Seeing the space is important. But feeling it is even more crucial. For that, I have to use my imagination. What's it going to be like in the front row? In the back row? Off to the left, or the right? What am I going to have to do to fill this space and make sure everyone is involved and engaged?
Sometimes, I'll have a chance to actually go around the auditorium and sit in various places. I always did that the day before a new semester at Notre Dame, during my years as a professor there. I'd go into the auditorium, where, the next day, I'd greet three hundred new students. I'd sit in the front row, the back row, off to the side, in the middle, and just contemplate. I'd imagine what it would take to capture the attention and interest of the student in that seat. And then, the next day, I'd try to do it.
One evening, years ago, I stood alone in the middle of the Mecca, in Milwaukee, where the Bucks played basketball. The next day, I was going to speak to thousands of smart people, who would fill the seats, not for hoops, but for philosophy. My first few moments were intimidating. The space was dark, cavernous, and a little scary. I saw a sign that said "Exit" and that's exactly what I wanted to do - to leave the building, make my way back to the airport, and take the first flight home. How was I going to fill such an enormous place and keep everyone interested?
I decided to take charge of my thoughts and imaginations. I said to myself, "Tomorrow, I own this place. For one hour, this is my house. I get to decide what happens during that time. This is the place where ideas will flow, fun will be had, and hearts and minds will be recharged with positive energy." I didn't say it to myself as if I hoped that all this would be true. I said it as if I knew it would be. And I could instantly feel my emotions changing from anxiety to anticipation.
Emotionally, I like to take ownership of a space where I'll be working. If I can't get into the place ahead of time, I may look at photos of the building, and use my imagination even more. From doing my thing many times in big convention halls and sports arenas, and even an NFL stadium, I've learned the importance of owning a large space. But it's really no different in a small space. Do you have an important meeting coming up? If so, is there any way you can access the room in advance? Doing this allows you to feel the space and fill the space, project yourself into it, and imagine everyone else around the table, or throughout the room, smiling, or nodding, or connecting with you in some positive way. It creates a comfort factor, and an energy edge. It's almost magical, and even nearly spooky, how well this works. But, whatever else is involved, going into a place where you'll be "performing," and getting there early, allows you to take some of the unknown out of the equation. Smile. See yourself succeeding there. Then, you have a great head start on the event. When you own it, then you can use it well. It's up to you.