After attending a some speaking events over the last couple months, and presenting at a few over the years myself, I got to thinking of elements that help create a successful event. While there’s no magic bullet, there are a good number of simple, easy to execute techniques and elements to keep in mind that will help ensure such events come off as well as possible. There are five main areas to address:
Shape/layout of the room
Look at the room, think about where the speaker will stand, where you want guests, furniture that’s there and map out an ideal situation in your mind. Now move tables/chairs to where you want them, position the microphone and make the space ideally yours.
Lighting the speaker
Stand where the speaker will stand. Is it bright enough or too dark? Ensure the spot your speaker will stand is ideally lit, adjust lights if possible or move the speaker’s position. Trying to present while lights are blasting your eyeballs or standing in the dark makes it unnecessarily difficult for everyone involved. Taping a small ‘x’ on the ground is a good way for presenters to remember where they should position themselves as well.
Test the volume
There’s nothing more critical than the volume. Test the volume before starting to ensure it’s not too soft and not too loud. Remember that bodies in a room absorb sound so up it a bit when testing in an empty room. Then have someone standing near the volume dial while speakers are doing their thing to ride the levels here and there.
Unless you need one to hold a laptop, ditch the podium. They’re old school, cumbersome and obscure the speaker. If you can, get the center of attention out in the open.
Invite the right number of people. Too few will make the room feel empty and the event a dud. Too many and it’s crowded, not comfortable, will be overly noisy and the event is suddenly in jeopardy. Hone-in on your ultimate number, take RSVPs for 15% more than that, some won’t show, a few that didn’t register will roll in, and you’ll hit more or less your optimum number.
Regulate the chat
At the start, have the host ask people to take conversations outside while presentations are on and to put their phones on ‘silent’. Establishing these rules at the beginning reminds most people of common sense and makes it easier to crack the whip later should attendees misbehave!
Call on friends
Keep an eye on RSVP numbers and have a few friends/colleagues ready to attend to fill-out the room if needed. Having a some savvy allies in house to talk up your cause is always a good thing, but don’t overdue it.
It’s tough to advise experienced speakers before an event. If you have good ones, they’re probably well versed on how to present with maximum impact. That said; try to email speakers prior to your event, letting them know expectations, start times, format, etc. You can include some general presentation tips as well in such a note.
There’s nothing worse than constant ‘pops’ of air when people speak directly into a mic or their volume being way too low. Hold the microphone at a 45-degree angle from the corner of your mouth, about 2-3 inches from your face. Speakers can test the volume and get in optimum position at the start by sharing their name, occupation and a bit about themselves with the crowd.
See the crowd
While presenting, look throughout the room as much as you can. Lighting may prevent you from actually seeing peoples’ eyes, but continually moving your gaze will create an impression of connecting with each and every guest.
Proof the slides
After working on something for a while you’re bound to become used to its errors and miss them. Ask someone who isn’t involved in presentation creation to proof your slides for errors when you think you have the final draft done.
Stick to format
Religiously! If it’s says 10 slides over 10 minutes, then have exactly 10 slides and don’t speak for more than 10 minutes. Keep to format, time and theme.
Have the host let guests know at the start if there will be time for questions, and if so, how long. You can also supply paper/pencils for people to write down their questions, which they can give to the host, as some people are just too shy to speak up.
Often people are too shy to ask questions, so have a couple friends/colleagues in the crowd with a question ready to go. If no one speaks up after five seconds, they should jump in and help things along.
When asking a question, start by stating your name and organization. It will help put your query in context and get you a bit of exposure with the crowd, also making it easier for people to approach you later.
Ask what you’re interested in, but keeping questions a bit easy, rather than super hard, is appreciated by most speakers. Putting presenters in a position where they can’t answer well will only make them have it out for you.
If it’s that kind of event, serve a few drinks before presentations begin at a slowish pace, then almost stop drink service during the presentation. Alcohol leads people to talk more and louder, making things tough for the speaker.
Chat with the venue staff before the event and let them know how the event will play out. Ask them to remain as quiet as possible during the presentation. Remind them not to clank glasses, rustle the ice, or chat too loud, helping to keep the atmosphere as quiet as possible for the speakers.