Mike's random thoughts and ramblings

Spatial Location and Leadership Assessment

Even before I started reading Daniel Goleman's new book, neurology seemed to be popping up in my life all over the place - whether it was Linda sending me an article, or the new issue of Scientific American, or reading about Mindless Eating on Tom Peters' blog, it's been permeating the past few weeks.

Yesterday, I came across one of the most interesting papers I've read in a while entitled "Stage Left, Stage Right? Position Effects on Perception of a Spokesperson.". The paper, written by Nancy Upton, Linda Tickle-Degnen, and Robert Rosenthal, is an working draft of research on the subtle effect of how the position of a speaker in our visual field affects our assessment of a speaker because of the hemispheric lateralization of our brain. From the article:

"To the extent that you want your representative to be seen as a leader, choosing media contexts and layouts that position the representative in the viewer’s left visual field may be important. In contrast, in situations in which it would be preferable for the company spokesperson to seem more cooperative and accommodating, placement in the right visual field might be advantageous."

While one of the conclusions of the paper was that the effect was stronger in the presence of a speaking partner (for example, a television talk show), I think that this paper could have a significant effect in the case of presentations as well - in that case, the projection screen acts as your "partner" to focus the attention of the viewer and force you into their right or left visual field. This wasn't a conclusion of the paper, but it seems to make sense that the screen would produce a more significant effect than a single viewer.

After reading the paper, I found myself going back through each of my recent talks, and pondering how I was perceived in relation to my location on the stage, and realized that I have been positioned to the right of the screen significantly more often than to the left. It's definitely something I'm going to explore with the speaking opportunities that I have in the coming months.

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Michael Murray

Michael Murray