You’ve Been Invited to Present, Now What? Part 2: Three Big Questions You Need to Ask About the Room Before You Present

You’ve accepted the invitation to speak, you’ve done the research on your audience, and you’ve just finalized your content. All done, right? Not necessarily.

While you have completed the bulk of the work for preparing to present, two things which are often overlooked are the setup of the room and technical logistics. The layout of the room and the technical components can have a huge impact on how smoothly your presentation goes. Everything from not being heard because of a poor microphone, to not being seen well because a huge support beam is blocking the view of part of the stage, will instantly cause your audience to tune out.   

The layout of the room will determine how you physically manage the space between you, your audience, a podium, and any visual support (such as a slide screen or flat-screen TV). Your main objective is to always be in a position that allows you to make eye contact with your audience – and they with you. This creates a physical and physiological connection between you and your audience. If you cannot see the room in advance, ask the host to use her smartphone or tablet device to send you video or still shots of the layout of the room from both the view from the “stage” of the audience as well as from the audience’s view of the stage.

Then, start asking your host questions:

  1.  Ask about the room and layout. This is a huge question with many facets to address. What are the dimensions of the room? What are the dimensions of the stage? Are there any pillars that will obstruct your view of the audience? Is the audience’s seating theater style, classroom style, or clusters of round tables? Are there any windows in the room? Where are the entry and exit doors? Ask about anything that you have found a problem or annoying in the past. I once spoke during lunch time at a conference held at a beautiful hotel. Speaking during a meal is always a challenge but, in this incident, the doors from the waiters’ service entrance were on either side of the stage. While I was talking, the audience was distracted about every 10 seconds by the loud click of the doors being opened by waiters bring food to the tables. Now, if I must speak during a meal, I ask about the location of service doors. If the layout is similar to what I experienced in the past, I explain the problem and ask that the room be reconfigured – and the hosts have complied.
  2. Ask about “the speaker space.” In smaller spaces, like conference rooms, how much space is there between where you will be standing when you speak, and your audience? Whether in a conference room or large venue, avoid getting stuck speaking behind a podium with a hardwired microphone whenever possible. Podiums restrict your physical movement and create barriers between you and your audience. Studies show those who speak without podiums are perceived as being more “interesting and engaging.”In large venues, if you must speak from behind a podium, ask that a picture of it be sent to you and ask about its height. If you are under 5’5” ask for a small riser to be placed behind the podium for you to stand on. You want the surface of a podium to be between your waist and breast bone. If it is higher than that, the podium will overpower you, leaving you to look like a child sitting at the “grown up table” at a family dinner. The riser also helps you be in a better speaking position for a hardwired microphone.
  3. Ask about audio/visual equipment. If you are using your laptop to show slides in a conference room, ask whether the room is set up with a flat-screen TV and HDMI connection or an LCD projection system with a VGA connection. Make sure you have the right connection cables for your laptop. Also, inquire about the location and distance of electrical outlets to the “speaker’s” space in case you need power. If the distance is longer than your computer’s power cord, ask for an extension cord or bring your own. It is best to not depend on a laptop’s battery power.

Position your laptop in front of you or nearby where you can easily glance at it to keep on track, rather than turn your head and body toward the screen. Podiums are good for supporting your laptop, but not to support  you!  If at all possible, never allow someone else to be in charge of advancing your slides.

In larger venues, never hesitate to ask for a wireless lapel microphone so you can walk freely from one side of the stage to the other. This helps you make more direct eye contact with people on both sides of the room. If a podium is there, use the podium to hold your notes or laptop if you are using slides.

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. So, planning for all of these details will help prevent a lot of glitches that could have a negative impact on your nerves and your presentation. Remember, you have been invited to speak because you have something of value to share with that audience. The smoother every aspect of your time in the spotlight goes, the more favorable impression the audience will have of you and your presentation!

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