There’s nothing worse than writing an amazing speech, but having it fall flat because of something at the speaking venue. The more information you have about the venue beforehand, the better the chance you have of not being caught unawares.
Preparation is key!
Before speaking, try to find out:
The audience size
Speaking to a dozen people is a different experience to speaking to two hundred. Will you have a microphone? And what type? Will you be stuck at a lectern? Or will you have a hand held mike? Or lapel? What’s the size of the stage? If it’s a larger stage, you can afford to make your gestures larger.
The seating configuration
What is the seating configuration? Are there any ‘blind spots’? Here’s a list of seating styles and their various challenges:
This is where people are seated along both sides of a long table.
Challenge – everyone is facing towards the centre.
Resolution – be aware that presentations must be given from either one end of the table or the other.
You see this formation in a lot of workshop presentations. People are seated around tables with each row angled towards the speaking area. Sometimes the people are seated on both sides of the table.
Challenge – people may be facing each other.
Resolution – break down the barrier early by engaging with someone at each table so it brings focus towards the front.
We’re all familiar with this one. It’s what we see in every theatre. People are normally closed in like sardines with their attention on the stage.
Challenge – latecomers need to push past a lot of people to get to their seats.
Resolution – if people are running late, it could be worthwhile starting late (not usually a good practice), or having the doors closed to latecomers.
The U shape style
This is seating in the shape of a letter ‘U’. People may be at tables or just in seats.
Challenge – even though this is a smaller environment, people are seated at different distances to you as the speaker.
Resolution – There’s an inclination to walk into the middle of the ‘U’. Try to avoid doing this because it causes a disconnect between you and anyone positioned behind you.
There’s no seating at all here. This is literally a bunch of people standing around with drinks in their hands.
Challenge – half the audience probably have their backs to you. They may be crowded in shoulder to shoulder.
Resolution – try to be positioned on a stage or platform higher than the guests so they can see you. To get everyone’s attention, the old ‘spoon and glass trick‘ works remarkably well. It’s a universal signal for getting everyone’s attention.
We all remember what this looks like. Rows of seats with the audience facing the speaker.
Challenge – it is difficult to get the audience to interact with each other if you want that to be a component of your presentation.
Resolution – ask audience members to turn to each other, introduce themselves and ask each other a question.
This is a similar challenge to cocktail style. Circles or squares of people sitting around facing each other. In addition, alcohol may stop people from acknowledging the speaker.
Challenge – getting people’s attention.
Resolution – once again, try to make certain you’re positioned higher than the audience and bring out that old ‘spoon and glass’ trick again.
How long are you required to speak? Don’t turn up with a ten minute speech when you’re required to speak for an hour. Or visa versa. Speaking overtime is a huge no-no! People don’t appreciate it when you speak for longer than arranged. You probably won’t be asked back!
Are you speaking at a special event? Are there other speakers before and after you? Who are they? And what are their topics? Covering material that’s already been covered can really undermine your presentation. You may also want to consider if your material contradicts any of the other speakers.
I’m not saying don’t do this – you need to believe in your material so you can present it – but if your material goes against that of another speaker, you may need to address this in your presentation.
Time of day
Are you speaking at the start of the day? Or the end? If you’re last on the program, you may need to employ some ‘revving up’ exercises for the crowd.
What are the technical requirements of the venue? Do they have microphones? If you’re using a laptop and making a Powerpoint presentation, do you need to bring your laptop? Or is one provided? What about a ‘slide advancer’ – that little device that allows you to move from one slide to the next?
Be aware – if something can go wrong with technical equipment, it will! I’ve seen it happen time and time again!
What is your backup plan? What is your backup to your backup plan? You can’t be over prepared here. Make certain you cover all the contingencies. Make hard copies of every aspect of your presentation and have it handy on the day.
Being prepared will help you avoid dramas on the day. Knowledge is power! Know the venue. Know what’s come before you. Have backups just in case.
If you do all these things, your presentation will work better, and your audience will love you for it.