Having done the hard yards – preparation, practice, fine tuning of visuals and your final check there are just a few more thing left to do: you need to get there on time, set up properly and deliver. This can often be the time that a very well rehearsed presentation can still be undone. But it’s a misfortune that you can usually avoid – so read on to find out exactly what you need to do during that critical hour.
The hour leading up to your presentation is a gift which you can either squander or use wisely. It’s also the period of time in which you create your final set up. This means making sure everything is in place where you want it to be and working properly. Why is your set up so vitally important?
There are several reasons which can be split into 2 key areas – your readiness to deliver your best, and the first and subsequent impressions of you audience.
So let’s start with the first rule of presentations: Be early. This extends to not allowing your time of arrival to be in the hands of someone who may be unreliable. This is not always possible, but it’s important to do your best to engineer your early arrival. If it’s in someone else’s hands, be aware that your early arrival is unlikely to be a priority for them. Of course, it’s crucial for you! A good tip is to arrange for them to come 15 minutes earlier than required thus allowing you to make contingency plans if they prove unreliable.
The way you set up your presentation itself speaks largely to the visual impact you’ll make on your audience. We know that audiences develop a first impression of a speaker within seconds, but they also gain an impression of the venue, the way they were received and seated, the background music, access to parking, tea/coffee, restrooms and so on. This is referred to as the customer experience. Where these things are within your control it’s important that you choose the right venue. You also need the time to set it up as you want it. This includes timeous sound checks in advance of the audience entering the presentation venue. I’ve always found that making friends with the front of house people and the sound engineer is a great idea.
I’ve seen too many presentations where the stage is a mess. This is problematic for many reasons. Firstly it makes you look disorganised. Second it’s harder to find things quickly – which you may well need to do. I like to have one small bag where I keep all my little things like clicker, spare batteries, flash drives, elastic bands, pens & markers etc. The advantage is that it keeps them all neatly in one place. You just need to look after it! Thirdly you want to avoid tripping over cables, so having the time and savvy to tidy up your presenting space in advance has many benefits. It also makes it easier for you to pack up afterwards without leaving some of your stuff behind.
Some audience members will arrive early to avoid traffic, because that’s just how they are or because that’s how their schedule worked out. Some of these people like to come across and chat to you. Your early arrival allows you a few minutes of chat without being rude. (Who knows, one of them may be your next big client!).
A great tip is to ensure that there is a glass of warm water (no ice please!) for you to sip on. This will sooth your throat. Cold water constricts your vocal cords and causes vocal strain. It’s also smart to empty your bladder about 10-12 minutes before you’re due on. Leaving it until the last minute is ill-advised – unless you have something against the event organiser.
Naturally, you want to get your mind right for your presentation. If you’re a “pro” you’ll also want to do a few warm up voice exercises. These things fall into the important but not urgent category. This means that these 2 important things will be neglected if you’re short of time, but the benefits of getting them done can be the difference you need to make the impact you want.
In summary, the set up is all about being organised, and that’s primarily up to you since your audience is more likely to judge the presenter rather than the conference coordinator if things don’t go right.
If you’re well organised you’ll not only feel much more confident but you’ll be less stressed and in all likelihood deliver a far better presentation. That’s the key to being ready to give value to your audience. It’s also the best start to achieving the outcome you wanted all along.