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Check Out The Room Before You Speak

You've prepared and rehearsed your presentation to a fare-thee-well. Now one more thing remains: checking out the room where you'll be speaking.

Leave nothing to chance
It's essential that you do as much advance checking as possible. Keep a checklist handy. List everything that can conceivably affect your presentation, for better or worse.

Make every effort to visit the venue before the day of your talk. If you find something that needs correcting, don't hesitate to tell the meeting organizers. After all, they too have an interest in seeing that all goes well.

If you cannot visit the site, at least review your checklist with your hosts to be sure they address your concerns. Also consider having someone visit the site for you, as your surrogate.

On the day of your meeting
Follow up with a final walk-through on the day of your talk. Arrive early enough to review everything one more time. Ideally, do a full rehearsal or at least a technical run-through with exact sound, lighting, and visuals you'll be using. Be sure to tell your host if you spot things that need correcting.

"Ideally, do...a technical run-through with exact sound, lighting, and visuals you'll be using."

Here are some things you should check:

Room layout
Is the room large enough to accommodate your audience comfortably? Conversely, is it too large for the audience you're expecting? You may have to take charge and request a meeting room that is ample, but not too large.

Check the location of doors. Once the meeting has started, people should not enter through doors at the front of the room, to prevent latecomers from disrupting the meeting.

Does the seating arrangement allow everyone to see you easily? Are there pillars or objects that could block the view of anyone in your audience? Is the seating comfortable? If not, request that the seating be rearranged to your liking. Avoid long, narrow rooms, which provide the least visibility and the least audience comfort.

Room noise
Is the room quiet enough so that your audience won't have to screen out noises in order to hear you?

Be sure the ventilation system is working well and quietly. Be sure there's no extraneous noise coming from other meetings in adjoining rooms or from the corridors.

Look for unexpected noise. If your meeting is at a hotel or conference center, check to see if there are noises likely to come from nearby kitchens or perhaps from construction work going on in the building. Sounds from outside the building, especially traffic noise, can also be a distraction. Drapes can serve as a buffer from outside noise.

Some paranoia is healthy, at least when it comes to the use of equipment to support your presentation. Assume nothing and trust no one to come to your rescue if something goes wrong. Don't, for example, assume that your computer will work with their projector. So do make it a rule to check all the equipment in advance. And, obvious as it may seem, be sure you know how to operate the equipment. (See our article on using microphones, in the Summer 2004 issue of The Total Communicator.)

Microphone and sound system
If you're using a sound system, test it to make sure it's in good working order. Know the type of microphone you'll be using, and practice using it.

Don't assume that the meeting organizers will provide a high-quality sound system that's just right for your presentation. It's your job to make certain that the sound system is functioning properly. Have people take places around the room to be sure you can be heard clearly. Don't hesitate to request that a technician be on hand.

Be sure the screen is easily visible from anywhere in the room. Sometimes chairs are placed too far forward, or too much to either side at too sharp an angle, so that people can see only a portion of your slides.

Stage lighting should never blind you. Make sure no lights are shining directly into your eyes at the lectern that would prevent you from seeing the faces of the audience. It's best if most of the speaker lighting comes from the sides. House lighting should be bright enough to enable you to see the faces of your listeners but not so bright as to wash out the screen. You may want to make the house lights brighter during Q&A.

Rehearse your approach to the podium. Do you have easy access? Are there potential hazards, like loose floor wires or loose carpeting? Are there plants, props, or other objects that might limit your movement on the podium or block the line of sight between you and your audience?

If you're going to use a lectern, it's best if you can practice using one before your meeting. Once at the meeting site, be sure to check the lectern for height and lighting. The lectern should not be so high that it obscures a clear view of you from anywhere in the meeting room. There should be sufficient lighting at the lectern for you to be seen easily by everyone in your audience, and a lamp on the lectern for you to read your notes easily. Be sure also to have a glass of water with you on the lectern. If there is no lectern, think of what you're going to do with your script or notes while you're speaking.

Audience comfort
It's just as important for your audience to be comfortable as it is for you.

Does the seating arrangement provide adequate comfort for your audience? Can they see you clearly from every seat?

Check the room temperature. Is it too cold? Too hot?

You can and should request a change in the seating arrangement or an adjustment in room temperature if that's called for.

Ask, if they don't tell
Ask the meeting sponsors if there have been problems with the room in the past. You may find there's something you've overlooked that you should be aware of. That information won't always be offered, unless you ask.

And, of course, be sure to do your final check of everything well before your audience is in the room.

This Issue

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