Take Your Space

What I learned from Anne Bogart & Tina Landau

Who the heck are Anne Bogart and Tina Landau, and why do you care?

Anne Bogart is one of the Artistic Directors of SITI Company and a professor at Columbia University. Tina Landau is a freelance director, playwright and member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. These women have some insightful things to say about space and how we use it. Together they authored a book called, “The Viewpoints Book.” Viewpoints is a technique that explores movement, gesture and creative space. Originally developed in the 1970s by choreographer Mary Overlie as a method of movement improvisation, Bogart and Landau adapted the Viewpoints theory for acting.

Why do you care? One of the most common habits we all have, especially when we’re presenting, is not taking our space. What does that mean? Space affects us. It has an impact on us, and how we use it also has an impact on our audiences and those around us. In “Viewpoints,” Bogart and Landau discuss spatial relationship (among other things), which refers to “the distance between things onstage, especially (1) one body to another; (2) one body (or bodies) to a group of bodies; (3) the body to the architecture.”

When it comes time for you to speak, or even if you’re having a one-on-one conversation, be conscious of how you take and use your space. In simple terms, where are you, where are the people, and where is everything else? Consider:

  • Upstage or downstage? Directors arrange actors and their movements to tell a story effectively and to establish clear sightlines. The downstage area, closest to the audience, is a strong position. Upstage, away from the audience, is less compelling. Where you position yourself is important.
  • What if you’re seated around a conference table? Sitting on the edge of your chair and leaning forward (downstage) indicates interest in the discussion. When you shift your weight and lean back in your chair (upstage), you give the impression that you are not as engaged.
  • Are you purposefully using the space? Every move an actor makes is intended to help tell a story. When you’re presenting, move and use your space with purpose to help you connect with individuals or to help the audience visualize what you’re discussing. Make every move count.
  • Do we look like a team? How you interact with your teammates can make or break your presentation. Does your team look disjointed when the members split up and stand on either side of the projection screen? Probably. If it’s a formal presentation, the team needs to stand or sit together, listening to and interacting with each other. If the presentation is less formal, take a note from Viewpoints and consider the principle of “one body to another”; does it make more sense for your team members to sit amongst and interact with the client? How can you best use your space so your audience knows you are one, unified team?
  • What else is in the space? What’s your spatial relationship to other things in the room? For example, standing behind a podium or a table creates a barrier between you and the audience. And what about those slides? Are you hugging your images or talking with your audience?

As Shakespeare says, “All the world’s a stage”; let’s figure out how to use it to be more effective communicators.

— Jennifer
Graceworks Atlanta

Tales from the Field

Tales from the Field

As a general contracting and construction management firm, we work across multiple industries, and by now, I thought we had been asked to make practically every type of shortlist presentation. Then we received a call to do one that involved a project tour. After months of chasing the planning and construction of the new project, we made it to the final round and needed to take our potential clients on a tour of a similar project we had built. The challenge was to highlight each of our team members, maintain the client’s interest, and keep the focus on their project and unique needs even though we were surrounded by a facility we had built for someone else. Plus, we had to be “big and bold” enough to fill every inch of the cavernous space with our energy and enthusiasm.

Our Graceworks’ coach worked closely with our team to figure out everything from the best tour route to the right stories to tell and, of course, how to use our bodies and voices to make sure the galleries, public spaces, and “back of house” areas we visited didn’t dwarf us.

Graceworks even helped us make the most of a cocktail hour and dinner the evening before the tour, so we could walk the line between business and pleasure while maximizing every moment of our time together. Once again the Graceworks magic came through for us, and the client awarded us the project. But even more rewarding for me is watching our employees as they continue to apply what they’ve learned across all aspects of their work.

Sean Murray
Director of Marketing
Pepper Construction
Chicago, Illinois

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