Presentations – Get Set!

You’ve got something important to say and an audience that wants to hear it. How could it be any better? Setting the stage before you get there can make a big difference in how your message is received and avoid pitfalls.

1. Google the Group – Find out as much as you can about the group and the leaders before you accept the engagement. You don’t want to be surprised while you’re talking. At a comedy club in a suburban town, a young comic made assumptions. He came from a big and busy city in a different part of the country. He assumed that the audience would be parents and the women would be housewives. His fuzzy pink slippers and curlers in the hair jokes were falling flat. He shifted to jokes about the audience being asleep. A few minutes on the internet would have told them that they were in a suburb where most of the audience was young working couples. They left the stage without having gotten a single laugh. Know your audience!

2. Map It – Make sure you have directions both to and from the location. That might seem unnecessary but your return trip isn’t always as obvious as you might think. Print out the directions and make sure you put them in the car ahead of time. Review them before you leave home and review them at the location where you’re speaking before you leave the building. One speaker knew they could see the freeway they needed to be on to head home from the location but there was no entrance where they headed. Wandering around in neighborhoods with bars on the windows at ten o’clock at night is definitely not the way you want to end a successful presentation. Be sure you know how to get there and how to get back.

3. Visit the Venue – If it’s possible, go to the place you’re going to be speaking ahead of time. Get a good idea about the acoustics, the lighting, how close the audience will be, the available technology. It all makes a difference in how you interact with the audience. Will you be on a stage? Will you be at the same level as the audience? Will the audience be seated in rows that rise and give complete visibility of you and your props? Having a clear idea of how your position in the room relates to the audience can prevent wearing the wrong clothing, using body language that some people won’t be able to see, or having props that won’t work. Sit where the audience will sit and get a good idea of what and how much they will be able to see.

4. Practice with a Microphone – How many times have you been in a meeting where a speaker was introduced and offered a microphone that they declined to use and then started to talk with people in the back yelling that they couldn’t hear the speaker? If you’re speaking to a large group, use the microphone and be familiar with how it works. Know ahead of time if they’re going to have to clip something on you that will limit your movement or require some uncomfortable effort to connect it to your clothing. For a local television show, one woman wound up with her clothing so badly adjusted in the back to make the clips work that she was unable to use movements she planned and had to stand stiffly in one place. Know what’s going to impact your presentation.

5. Practice in the Clothes You’re Going to Wear – That outfit might look great in the store or on the hanger. It might not look as great in front of an audience. It’s not just whether it matches the background. Does it allow the movements you want to make to make your point? What does it look like on? How does it look when you’re moving around the stage? Check it out with a video of a practice session or in front of a mirror. Make sure that there are no odd things going on. It’s not a pretty sight when your shirt pulls up to reveal a spare tire. It might seem long enough when you’re standing still but you want to see how it behaves when you’re performing. Make sure that you know what kind of impression you’re going to make when you’re actually speaking.

6. Dress for Success – An excellent speaker arrived early at an event to check out the venue and see how her presentation would fare. Imagine her surprise when she walked in and saw that the backdrop on the stage was the same color as her planned outfit. Fortunately, there was time to make the necessary changes and show up in clothing that contrasted and allowed her dramatic movements to have the impact they were meant to have. If your presentation is going to be filmed, avoid white or bright red clothing, shiny objects, small checked fabric, or narrow stripes. You’ve seen people on TV in clothing that keeps swimming in front of your eyes and distracts you from the speaker’s message. Avoid the same mistake.

7. Ask Others Who’ve Spoken to the Group – A speaker was invited to do a business presentation to a group after one of the members heard them speak on the same topic. Both the speaker and the person who suggested them to the group were pleased about the opportunity. Ask someone else who has spoken there what their experience was like. You can start out from a win-win and find yourself going in a completely different direction pretty quickly. One speaker discovered that he was expected to remain in the seat he were escorted to when he got up to go to the bar. Two people were there immediately to escort him back. Find out if there are unwritten rules. It’s more than just clear, concise communication.

Conclusion: It pays to check out the group and the setting ahead of time. If you have that knowledge and clear, concise communication you’ve got it made!