Ten Things to Check before Your Presentation

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You prepare a fantastic presentation. You run it by your colleagues. Everyone says it's pure genius. Can't miss. The big day arrives and you're psyched. You take your incredibly cool slides and go to the site of your presentation. The audience applauds as you enter the room. But you wish you were dead. The podium you requested isn't there. Neither is the microphone. And the way the room is set up, half your audience couldn't even see your slides anyway.

Rather than being stuck on stage without the right equipment, you should maximize your chances of giving a successful presentation by taking care of the following before you start talking:

  • How to get there: It's not enough to know the hotel. You need to know the exact location. Why? By the time you get to the correct room, you're frazzled and possibly even late. The time you were going to spend getting used to the room and psyching yourself up is gone.

    Related concerns are traffic and parking. Don't plan your timetable on some general notion of how long it takes to get to the meeting site. Plan specifically for the time you'll be traveling. Maybe it generally takes 30 minutes to get there. If you have to travel during rush hour, it's going to take longer. Plan for it.

    Then you have the whole parking thing. You need to know where to park. Hey, you're the speaker. Tell them to give you a special parking spot at the meeting site. You deserve it.

  • Sound system: Does the room have a sound system, and is it working? Make sure the volume is adjusted so that everyone in the room can hear you. Test the microphone in the location where you'll actually use it. Do you know how to turn the microphone on and off? Do you know how to adjust the microphone stand? Different microphones pick up and broadcast your voice in different ways. Play with the microphone until you have a good idea of its range.

  • Podium: Is there a podium or lectern? Is it the right size and in the right place for you? Do you want the audience to see you? Then make sure you're taller than the podium or that you get a box you can stand on behind the podium. Does it have a light in good working order? If you're going to darken the room for slides, you can't get the audience to see the light if the podium leaves your notes in the dark.

  • Audiovisual equipment: If your visuals are in PowerPoint, make sure that a computer with PowerPoint is ready and that you can load your presentation (or, better yet, bring your own laptop). Make sure the right cables are with the projector (power for the projector and the right connector cable for the computer). Walk around the room while a slide is projected to check that it can be seen from everywhere in the room. And definitely use a screen. It shows a projection much better than a wall.

    If you're using video, be certain the right equipment is available and the volume is appropriate for all members of the audience. If you're using an overhead projector, make sure it isn't blocking the view of people seated in line with it. Many slide and overhead projectors come equipped with a spare bulb, so also make sure you know where it is.

  • Lighting: Test the lights in the room or on the stage to see if they work and how the light fills the room. Find out if you can adjust their level of brightness. If they're adjustable, take advantage of this feature — especially if you're using slides. While slides require that you turn the lights off, if your slides are easy to see, you can show them with the lights turned down but not off. A small amount of light makes a tremendous difference in your interaction with the audience. They can't go to sleep under the cover of darkness.

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  • Human equipment: If people are operating equipment for you, make sure that they know what they're doing. Also, make sure that you know who to contact for help with minor and major catastrophes — a light bulb burns out, a microphone breaks, or your podium is destroyed by a UFO.

  • Electricity: Where are the electrical outlets in the room? Do you have enough of them to run your equipment? Are they two-prong or three-prong? Do yourself a favor by always bringing an adapter and an extension cord (and perhaps a power strip).

  • Restrooms: Where are the restrooms located? Do they have paper towels available? Is there an adequate supply of toilet paper? Do the toilets work? You never know when you'll need a restroom in a hurry — especially if you're nervous.

  • Seating arrangements: When it comes to seating, three basic considerations apply to any type of presentation in any type of setting.

    • First and most important, can everyone see you?

    • Is the seating comfortable — both physically and psychologically?

    • Is the arrangement of chairs suited to the size of the room, the size of the audience, and the purpose of your presentation?

    In considering these factors, start with the room. Will you be in a banquet room? A conference room? A large meeting room? An auditorium? The room establishes the parameters for seating. Next, will the audience be seated at tables? If so, will they be round tables or rectangular tables? After you have this information, you can arrange the seating pieces like a jigsaw puzzle until you get the picture that you want.

    Within the boundaries established by the room and furniture, you can arrange seating based on the size of the room and your purpose. Chairs in a semicircle provide a more informal atmosphere. This arrangement puts you directly in front of each audience member. It also allows all the audience members to see each other. If the audience is more than 30 people, you can stagger a second row of chairs behind the first row. Now you have a double semicircle where the second row looks between the shoulders of the people in the first row. For large groups or a more formal atmosphere, use classroom-style seating in rows.

    If you're speaking at a breakfast, lunch, or dinner meeting, the audience will probably be seated at round tables, which means that half of them will have their backs to you when you begin to speak. Factor this in when you begin your presentation. Leave time for them to turn their seats around to face you.

  • Potential distractions: If you're speaking at a restaurant, hotel, or office building, chances are there's a nice view out the window of the meeting room. That's bad news, because you want audience attention focused on you, not the view. What can you do? First, try to speak in a room that has no windows. If that's not possible, make sure that the windows are covered with drapes or curtains. What if they have no curtains? Improvise. Some speakers hang tablecloths over the windows — anything to eliminate the competition of the view.

    Another big distraction is noise; it directly competes with your message. If you're speaking at a grazing function — a breakfast, lunch, or dinner — don't start your presentation until the waiters have cleared the tables. The clatter of dishes is an intolerable distraction. But due to "time problems," your contact may insist that you begin speaking before the meal is concluded. Try this tactic: Suggest that the waiters serve dessert and disappear. They can clear the dessert plates after you finish speaking. You start talking as soon as the waiters leave the room. The noise of people eating dessert while you're speaking is a drag, but it's a lot better than trying to speak with waiters running around the room.


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