How to Avoid Keeping Speakers in the Dark

Every day on social media I see pictures taken at events where the face of the speaker is hidden in the darkness. Every. Day. This is both frustrating for the speakers, who might otherwise have been proud of the photos. It's also a wasted opportunity for the organizers, who fail to capitalize on the natural inclination of the audience to promote the event through their own social accounts.

But why is the speaker's face so often in darkness? To the immensely adaptable human eye the face is perfectly visible in the room, but to the average smartphone camera the dominant source of light in the room is the projection screen. Adjusting the exposure to adapt to the screen brightness inevitably means plunging the rest of the room into darkness.

Speakers can't really do very much about this problem beyond complaining to the organizers and sending them a copy of this post. They could adopt slides that are less bright -- light text on a dark background is the best -- and by blanking the screen when it is not needed. But the best way to address this problem is for the organizers of the event or the owners of the venue to address the underlying problems.

So what exactly can you do to minimize the problem?

Manage screen light. First of all, ensure that light from the projector never shines on the speaker. This both looks unprofessional and can also be very distracting for speakers. In large venues the problem does not arise because the screen is usually above head height. In rooms with a lower ceiling there is always a danger of the speaker being between the projector and screen but happily there is a technical solution for this problem. There are projectors called "short throw" and "ultra short throw" that can be ceiling mounted very close to the screen, behind the speaker, so that the speaker can walk in front of the screen without walking into the beam. If your meeting rooms still have traditional projectors make a note to fix this at the next upgrade, or right now if you can.

Illuminate the speaker. The other part of the solution is just to have more light on the speaker. With LED based stage lights this can be done very cheaply, without all the problems that used to be associated with theatrical lamps based on light bulbs. You should have at least two lamps, one from each side, to avoid shadows. Make sure that the area covered by the lights includes everywhere you expect a speaker to go. Some people might prefer to stay behind a lectern; others might walk around the stage. Make sure there are no dark patches. And remember to turn the lights on! More than once I have been in venues where speakers were in darkness because the lights were left off for some reason.

If you are an event organizer or venue owner try searching Twitter for recent pictures from your events to see if you have the problem. And if you are a speaker try asking for these problems to be fixed. It's in your interest, too, to come out of the darkness.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

In addition to being a speaker himself Andrew Hennigan provides one-to-one coaching and group workshops for people who want to master the art of speaking. For more details you can contact him at or +46 73 089 44 75.


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