Often in the rush and stress of preparing for a presentation, we make assumptions about a vital element of the presenting process. Assumptions that can lead to real trouble. That element is the presentation venue. What sort of room is it? Where will you be standing, and what furnishings and equipment will be available? What about computer and projection equipment, and compatibility? If you don’t know the answers to these points and adjust your preparations accordingly, presentation day can be a stressed-out, embarrassing disaster. Even a little set-up stress can throw you off your stride and damage your composure, stage presence and delivery.
If you’re saying, “Well, I always present in the same room; I’m totally familiar with the whole set-up, so this doesn’t really apply to me.” You’re right to an extent – have a familiar venue is a big plus. But you still have some crucial homework to do. Before you get up there to begin, you’d better know everything is working that day. Electronics are finicky things. People “borrow” or rearrange things and don’t put them back where they belong. Any number of unforeseen mess-ups can occur. And the day you don’t do a good check-over before taking the stage will be the day one of those mess-ups rears up and bites you.
So do everyone a huge favor: do your homework and know before you go!
1. Will there be a screen? What kind?
It’s pretty rare these days, but you might be called on to present in a space that doesn’t have a projection screen. Find out early! If there’s no screen, you’ll either have to bring your own, or prepare a presentation that doesn’t need one.
If there’s a screen, great. But will it work with the presentation you’ve prepared? If you’ve got a wide-format slide deck and the screen is small and square-ish, your slides may have to be projected so small that they can’t be seen well at all. If the only screen on-site is inadequate, you may have to bring your own.
2. Will there be a mic? What kind?
If you’re used to speaking with a microphone and you’re called on to make a presentation without one, you’re going to need to adjust your delivery. Ideally you should visit the room well in advance, so you have an accurate idea of its size and acoustics. This allows you to practice your presentation at the right volume and degree of projection. If you decide that presenting un-mic’ed is going to be unnecessarily challenging, you can also make arrangements to bring in your own mic system. Doing so isn’t a sign that you’re somehow deficient as a speaker. On the contrary, it shows you care enough about your audience and your message to make sure they’ll be able to hear what you have to say, and that you’ll be free to focus on your message – not your volume.
Microphone type is also a consideration. For example, if you’re used to presenting with an over-ear or lapel mic, and the venue only has a lectern-mounted system, you run the risk of going unheard because you tend to stand too far from the mic – or blowing people away because you lean in too close. Knowing the mic set-up in advance, you can adjust your preparations. It might mean putting in some practice with the type of mic the venue provides, or even making arrangements to bring in your own equipment.
3. How big will the audience be?
Having at least a rough idea of your audience size ahead of time reduces any potentially stressful surprise factor. If you’re expecting a small, relatively intimate audience, but arrive to find hundreds and hundreds of listeners, you could be knocked off your composure. Also, if you’re planning on distributing hand-outs, you need to know how many to make so there are enough to go around (but not so many that you waste resources).
So find out in advance how many people you’ll be addressing, and tailor your preparations to best reach that audience.
4. What is the seating arrangement?
Knowing how the audience will be arranged relative to your speaking position helps in practicing your presentation. If audience members will be directly in front of you, your job is fairly easy in terms of body motion and eye contact. If they will be spread out to your sides, you’ll need to get used to turning as you speak, so you connect with the whole group. If you’ll be speaking without a mic, you’ll also want to practice projecting so you fill the whole space. Having a coach or coaches is a huge help on this point.
5. Will the presentation be recorded?
If your presentation is to be recorded for later re-play, review your material to make sure it doesn’t depend to heavily on things only your live audience could appreciate. For example, anecdotes, examples or jokes that only those present for your live performance would understand should be avoided. To check this point, assume the viewpoint of someone seeing a recording of your presentation, months later – someone who was not in the original audience. If everything you say and show makes sense to that person, cheers – you’re good to go. Anything that depends too much on the context of the original presentation should be amended.
Follow these steps to prepare for your presentation, and you’ll improve your chances of being a big success.
Do you have any other presentation prep practices you’ve found especially valuable? Please share them in the comments, below!