How To Command The Room

Brad Karsh Headshot
By: Brad Karsh
Founder & CEO

At work, speech is often spontaneous. We don’t have the benefit of memorized presentations or teleprompters. Sadly, we’ve all experienced a meltdown or two.

I’m sure there are a few of you who wish you would have said something a bit differently in the presentation.  Maybe you wish you had the ability to press rewind in the interview, or you even wish you were more persuasive when you were talking with your boss.

The key to commanding a room is assertive speech.  Say what you need to say.  Say it in a convincing manner, and say it with a style that screams confidence and sincerity.  Here are a few tips that can help you become more effective in your speech.

Avoid I hope, I think, I’m sorry, maybe, perhaps, um, you know, like.  It’s extraordinary the number of times those words are uttered in the course of the business day – especially when trying to ask for help or to convince somebody of something.   You’re thinking, “What’s the problem, Brad, it just makes me sound polite and deferential.”  I say, it makes you sound unsure, weak, and decidedly not confident. 

Which is more effective when asking a co-worker for help?

Um, hey Darren, I’m sorry to bother you, because, I know you’re probably really busy, um, but um, would you, you know, be able to perhaps give me a hand with this brief.  I’m trying to put it um together, I think it might be, like, a big help to have you help.  But, um, don’t worry if you’re um busy.


Darren, I’d really appreciate your help on the brief I’m putting together.  Your expertise from your days on this account will be extremely helpful.  Let’s plan to sit down this afternoon or early tomorrow and go through the details.  I appreciate it.

Being assertive in your speech is one of the most difficult things to do, but it makes you so much more persuasive.  You need to be assertive – not arrogant or obnoxious – and convincing in a way that inspires action.

Be direct, specific, and to the point.  Just watch as your clients, co-workers and even managers begin to eat out of your hand.

Be Conversational.  I deliver dozens of workshops on presentation skills each year.  I work with delightful people with warm and engaging personalities.  Yet the moment they stand up to deliver a presentation, they take on an entirely new persona.  They go from being conversational and natural, to completely stiff, boring and monotone.  It’s almost as if they feel that being dull is a fundamental requirement for being a presenter.  I see the same thing in job interviews.

Relax.  Be yourself.  Pretend it’s a conversation with a friend.  I know the stakes are high on an interview or in a presentation, but anyone you’re speaking with wants to see the real you.

Embrace The Pause. Oftentimeswhenwepresentwefeellikeweneedtospeakcontinuouslywithoutstopping.  After all, we’re presenting.  It’s our job to speak.  When you feel the need to fill every second with a word, um, so, like, and you know tend to be those words. 

Be okay with a pause.  It helps pace the presentation, it can be quite dramatic, and it ultimately helps you avoid the ums and other filler words.  In your mind, even a brief pause seems like an eternity, but trust me, that’s not the case.  Give it a shot and see for yourself.  You’ll be shocked as the ums slip away.

Tell a story.  Your goal anytime you interact with others is to tell a story.  A key way to do this is to add transitions between your points.  Insert comments like:

“Okay, we just talked about how spending increases in the fourth quarter, so it only makes sense that we take advantage of that fact.  Now, let me tell you what we have in store for you for the next three months.”

It certainly takes practice, but the better you become at “Commanding the Room” the more effective you’ll be in the workplace.