The Table Experiment

In Sept 2010, I spoke at a conference. The stage had a lectern, short cocktail table with the computer on it, and a 2 m (6 foot) table for the panel of speakers, left-to-right as the audience looked at them. Between the lectern and the panel table was a 1 m space where the speaker could move to the edge of the stage, nearest to the audience.

I like to move around and flap my arms, so I knew that before speaking I would arrange to move the panel table. This struck me as an opportunity to experiment. I moved the table and suggested to the next speaker that he use the now freed space. He would be closer to the audience, appearing larger and people could see his whole body instead of the head-on-a-lectern view that distances speakers from their audiences.

The experiment was to see whether the remaining 15 speakers would notice the difference now modeled for them and use the rest of the stage without being told to do so or informed of the benefit. Of those 15 speakers, not one used this space. They chose to remain hidden behind the lectern. I gave 1/2 point to one speaker who ventured away from the lectern and stood next to the panel table.

The experiment told me something about public speaking: that many people who are willing to speak in public, fear it enough to retreat to the safe zone behind the lectern.

The experiment told me something about change management and continuous improvement: that even when people see an improvement modeled, they might not adopt the improvement, even if it benefits them, if they don’t notice or if there are other overriding blockages or concerns. We still need to communicate the change and the benefits of the change in their terms. We need to let them know WIIFM (“what’s in it for me”).

The one speaker who received my suggestion and adopted it looked larger and more present than all the other speakers. I wonder if he will remember it for future presentations.

I would like to perform the experiment again by coaching all the speakers to use the whole stage and measure the difference in adoption rate, if any. Maybe I could coach the first half of speakers and measure the adoption rate of the last half.

How many adopt an improvement after they are informed of its benefit?

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