Have you ever walked into a presentation and seen right away that the setting would be a challenge? What did you do? How did you remedy the situation? Everyone who is involved in putting together an event has a different agenda.
Some people involved in creating the setting have never had to give a presentation. Consider the different perspectives of the event planner, the hotel staff, the catering staff, the A/V personnel, and even the people from the main office who may never have seen the room first-hand. Yikes. For example, the chief waiter wants as much room as possible between round tables to maneuver carrying trays. I, as the presenter, want everyone as close as possible. “The line” is always varied by the person whose agenda will be most closely followed.
This past weekend I spoke to a group of emergency room physicians. Though there were over 1,000 people at the conference, the room I was in could seat 150. The challenge was that only 20 people ended up in my session.
Knowing that session attendance would be small for the room size, someone thought enough to put on the welcome slide, “Please sit in the first 6-7 rows.” Unfortunately, the font for that request was not the largest on the slide, so many people did not even notice it until they were already seated. Guess where most people sat? Everywhere but together. No one sat in the first 3 rows. Only one person sat all the way to the right in the fourth row. Yikes! What would you do? How would you handle that situation?
One thing I did right was to continue to heed advice from my comedy mentor: “Always show up early and watch the whole show.” This allows you to see for yourself whether the lighting, sound, or room setup can be adjusted during a break for optimal performance. It may also give you clues as to where microphone feedback may be a challenge or where there might be a dark spot on the stage. Some of these variables may not be as noticeable before the event begins.
Even though I was not scheduled to speak until after lunch, I made sure I was there at 8:30 a.m. to see exactly what the participants would experience from the beginning of the day. In the morning they hear what were called “Rapid Lectures.” Those were short, 15-20 minute lectures on topics such as emergency C-sections. (I saw some visuals that no civilian like me should ever see.)
I watched the presenters handle well a very small group in that large room. They each took the podium and delivered their presentation through slides. Honestly, I was impressed that the cavernous room did not seem to faze them as it might some professional speakers.
During the lunch break, Steve, the event planner, helped me make some staging adjustments and set up my computer and slides. When the group we were to address assembled, there were only about 20 people present. I was scheduled to go second. Prior to my presentation, a U.S. Senator and former physician addressed the group. He had no slides, but he did something that his years of experience must have advised him to do. He walked out into the middle of the room and simply started to have a conversation with the group. He moved closer to them. It was fascinating to see the difference from the earlier presenters.
After the Senator, there was a short break. I made some more minor adjustments, including putting my iPad timer on the fourth row table right in front of me to keep me on track for my 2-hour workshop. (Note to self: Make sure it is fully charged next time! Rookie mistake!). I’m always very aware of whether or not the people on the extreme right, left, and back have a good view of me and my visual aids. In fact, when I used the flip chart for part of my presentation, I stopped and asked the audience where they wanted it … down on the floor with me or up on the stage. They chose on the floor with me. At one point, though, I had to back it up so that when I was using the screen people on my far right could still see it. It is always a good idea to sit in the extreme four corners of the room to get the audience’s perspective. It really helps.
What is the real lesson here? At many of your speaking events, being on the main stage is the best option. More often than not, however, some adjustments can be made to optimize your connection to the audience. Though I love the feeling of being down on the floor closer to people, sometimes it is not the best place for me. Because I’m vertically challenged, some people in the back in large audiences can’t see me. I need to stand on the stage even though the first few rows may be empty. As true professionals, we must remember:
We are professionals. We are only one part of an event. We need to do the best we can with what we have. We should show up early and observe the presenters before us. We must constantly adjust, even during our presentation. I heard Bruce Springsteen say in an interview, “Our job is to shorten the distance between ourselves and the audience.” Brilliant. Will you meet them where they are?
Have you had any “room setup” horror stories you can share? What did you do?
Please share your experiences below!
What are the secrets, stories and strategies behind Unforgettable Presentations? Find out. Listen to Darren’s Brand New Podcast.