What is Spatial Anchoring in Presentations and Training?

ndcmanSome “Professional Communicators” mistakenly tend to feel that walking around the stage is the best way for them to “get in contact with the audience” and, at the same time, subconsciously burn-off excessive adrenalin.  However, this can cause certain problems for the audience. This article is to provide the reader with information about spatial anchoring, it’s relevance and practical use to presenters and trainers and those who wish to develop or improve their advanced communication skills

Anchors are an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) term for something that acts as a trigger that creates a specific response or reaction in the mind and/or body of someone. For example, consider how you feel when you hear that “special” song that marks a special moment in your relationship with your other half.  The song can be considered an anchor for the reaction your body or mind produces of that “special moment”. Another example is that of Pavlov and his dogs!
There are many ways that anchors can be used both in a clinical setting and in a business one so I shall focus solely on Spatial Anchors in the indicated business contexts.

Spatial anchoring
This occurs when a specific place becomes anchored in our subconscious as having a special meaning or significance: One example might be our childhood bedroom where we felt protected, loved, surrounded by OUR things, and with many happy memories, etc. Every time we go into our old bedroom, the old feelings  automatically return! Another example is when we have had a car accident. Afterwards, every time we approach the scene of the accident, we have a reaction: fear, caution, etc.

As a trainer or presenter, I ALWAYS set up spatial anchors © Copyright 2008 Corbis Corporationfor my communication by conducting the first few minutes of the presentation or training from one specific point – usually close to, and in front of – the screen so that my physical presence (image) is psychologically linked to my verbal input and the image(s) displayed on the screen. This takes advantage of both Focussed and peripheral vision which is known to increase retention of material. This static location is known as the “Presentation Point”. One thing that I NEVER do is wander around the room talking, looking at the screen, etc., while I am training or presenting. There are various reasons for this:
–   The Australians have a great phrase for this – “Going walkabout”. to wander through the bush or (Informally) to be lost or misplaced or to lose one’s concentration. (thefreedictionary.com). I want my audience focussed on me and the task at hand – and nothing else!

–     Constantly moving does NOT anchor anything in the audience members subconscious minds therefore nothing is perceived as being memorable and is easily forgotten.

–     The constant movement may be interpreted by the audience as a sign of the presenter’s or trainer’s insecurity which could subconsciously reduce the perceived validity of what is be communicated or result in a loss of control of the situation by the presenter or trainer.  Examples of loss of control include: people using Ipads/ tablets / laptops /smartphones; parallel conversations, people “off-task”, etc.

–     If you are constantly moving, how can you observe the audience’s reaction to your communication and adapt your delivery accordingly? It is widely recognized that Non-Verbal Communication (NVC) is an integral and vital component in influencing other people. The main elements being posture, gaze, orientation, proximity and gestures.  It is vital that the presenter is continually reading the NVC of the audience AND controlling their own NVC, too.

–     Constant movement makes it difficult to effectively handle different elements in the group: The Powers, influencers & hot bodies (for more details on these groups please see this post)

–     There are other, more effective ways to burn-off excess adrenalin caused by the stress of presenting or training that do not provide non verbal information about the mental state of the communicator.

–     I want to avoid giving my audience members “tennis neck” by making them repetitively turn their heads to follow me as I move around the room.

As a presenter or trainer, I want the audience to link:
1.     The visual aspects of the training or presentation (me + images on-screen: focussed & peripheral vision) with

2.     My verbal language and the brief text elements written on the screen.

3.     The emotional elements that are created by the communication.

An example of spatial anchoring that I use in training sessions is that I stand for the first 10 to 12 minutes which is when attention often starts to decrease …. and then move and sit on the corner of a table near the audience to tell them an anecdote, a short story, answer a question, etc. This change of activity ensures that attention will rise once again when we return to the presentation or training. Once this has been done a couple of times, the audience will have learned subconsciously, that when I go to the corner, they can put down their pens, kick-back and relax a bit and know that what is coming is not “pure” content. Once I stand up and move back to my presentation point, they know that some form of “content” is going to follow so concentration and note taking will probably be required. The same applies to the use of a flip chart: when I move to the flip chart, the students learn that what I am presenting is something that is not contained in the training manual and requires them to take special note of the information.

Another example of spatial anchoring is that of having one specific place where only BAD news is given and another place where only GOOD news is given. If you are sacking a group of people give the bad news from one specific place and then move to a totally different place to talk about the “good” (?) news such as out-placements, support, etc.

One of the greatest problems that many speakers have today is that of the lectern: That horrible (usually) wooden thing that stands between the presenter and the audience so that the presenter looks like they are in a trench with only their upper body sticking up and the rest of their body safely protected from the audience. Another problem with lecterns is that they are usually fixed in place which means that all type of news – good or bad – are given from the same point which means that if the same audience has received presentations in the same place, they probably have subconscious anchors (either positive or negative) based on previous experiences. I prefer to use a low table placed where I decide is the best place to hold my laptop instead of the lectern. in this way, I avoid all the problems indicated above. Also, I refuse to let someone or something determine the success or failure of my task (presentation or training) as my reputation and future depends on my success.

In summary, It is time for trainers and presenters to pay much more attention to the importance of their non-verbal communication with groups by using all of the available techniques to ensure that their message arrived elegantly, effectively and memorably. The elements dealt with in this article will, I am sure, cause many inflexible or traditional trainers / presenters to feel threatened as it required them to consider – and maybe break – the habits of a life time. As a famous, and true, NLP presupposition says:
“If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten!”
Is it time for YOU to change?

© Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, Spain, September, 2013.

Interesting note:
Spatial anchoring is also used in other contexts, too:
In infant & junior schools where teachers tend to have “punishment” locations such as “The naughty chair” or standing in the corner.
By many parents who tell their children to “Go to your room” when they have been naughty.
In some Asian countries, in a business context, spatial anchoring is used to show an employee’s relative position in the company hierarchy. Desks near the door or front of the room = lower status. The Director at the back of the room and far from the door.


About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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7 Responses to What is Spatial Anchoring in Presentations and Training?

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  5. Rob Norris says:

    This is an excellent post, which I just found after reading a more recent one.

    The only use I have ever had for a lectern is to emerge from it when I have an important point to make. Reduce the distance between you and your audience and everyone will sit up and take notice.

    I’ll also pass along a piece of advice I once read from an experienced speaker: if you have a choice, anchor yourself to the left of the screen–the audience’s left. Western audiences are accustomed to scanning left-to-right. Let the scan begin with you, travel to the screen when you indicate, and then return to you. It’s more natural for people.

    • ianbrownlee says:

      Hi Rob,
      The effect you wrote about is called “end-weighting” and is also applicable when using flipcharts, being in Photos, etc. In NLP, placement on the left of the screen (from the audience’s point of view) is also used to induce “remembering” mode in the Visual & Auditory Representation systems. The end-weighting technique is useful in many contexts except, on ocassions, during presentations when you need to have orientation, gaze, proximity directed towards the “power” and “influencers” in the audience. In these cases, the presenter has to make the decision. In presentations, I ALWAYS choose to focus on the Power.
      Hope this is useful. Have a great summer,
      Ian B

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