With so much going on at a typical meeting or conference it can be easy to forget that the actual presentations are the primary reason we are there. There are many elements that must come together to make an event a success, but if the presentations aren’t successful then nothing else matters. Whether you are paying the presenters or the presenters are paying you, it is absolutely critical that you give them the best opportunity to deliver successful presentations because, in the end, that is what the attendee will remember, and will ultimately be the measure of a successful event.There is no way to ensure that every presentation will be well received by an audience so there is no way to guarantee that every presentation will be a winner. As a meeting professional all you can do is give the presenters the tools to succeed. Fortunately this is not very complicated, and there are some simple things that can be provided to maximize the chances of a positive experience for both presenter and attendee.
When setting up a stage for presentations there are many options. Sometimes there will be a single presenter. Sometimes there will be multiple presenters at one time. Other times you may need to set the stage for several people to have a panel discussion to engage in a conversation with each other or the audience.
It is important to think about how the stage is set for each of these instances to increase intimacy, ensure ideal sightlines for the audience and allow for maximum energy from the presenters. For example, if you have a single presenter on stage must there be a podium? I have found that nothing can suck the energy from a presentation like a podium. Consider how the podium will affect the presentations for your event, and determine whether one is necessary. If you decide to not use a podium it is a good idea to provide a stage that is large enough for the presenter to walk around. This is very important because it can be awkward to stand in one position for an entire presentation without something to hide behind.
When a panel discussion is necessary we often see the typical table set on stage, and panelists seated in a row with microphones in their faces. This type of setup separates the panelists from the audience much like a podium. It doesn’t seem natural. I would suggest the panelists wear wireless lavalier microphones, and be seated in comfortable chairs on stage with no table. Once again, this will increase intimacy and energy while allowing the attendee to feel more like they are a part of the discussion.
While I am not a big fan of the typical Power Point presentation, the reality is that data and pictures are often at the center of a presentation so we simply must have the ability to display visual elements. To give these visuals the best chance of being effective we must be sure they are large enough, clear enough and bright enough.
In the AV industry we have some basic guidelines to estimate how large a screen should be. I could go into great detail about how we figure these estimates, but as a general rule no audience member should be further than 6 times the screen width from the screen when text is the primary content, and none should be seated closer to the screen than the actual screen width. So if you have a 12 foot wide screen the front row should be at least 12 feet from the screen and the back row should be no further away than 72 feet. Of course this is just a guideline, and not always possible. You should, however, consider this formula when you are planning your room set, and try to stay as close to these parameters as possible. It is surprising how many AV professionals don’t know this formula so it is always a good idea to check for yourself.
Another important factor is viewing angle. The rule here is to try to keep every attendee within a 45 degree angle of the outside edge of the screen. In extreme circumstances this angle can be as much as 60 degrees, but I would not recommend more than that. If you find that some seats will be outside of this field you may need to reconsider your setup.
While audio is sometimes the most overlooked element in any presentation the simple fact is that it is absolutely the most important. If the audience cannot clearly hear the presentation then nothing else matters. It is critical to invest in the best audio equipment your budget will allow because poor performance or a failure could be catastrophic for the event. It is also incredibly important to have a competent audio engineer because even the best equipment is worthless in the hands of someone who does not know what he or she is doing. This is one of the major pitfalls for planners using AV suppliers with whom they have no relationship, but I won’t go into that here.
One of the most important (and least thought of) factors in a successful presentation is the comfort level of the presenter. Even professional speakers get nervous if they don’t know exactly what they will encounter on stage. For this reason it is a great idea to make sure every presenter has an opportunity to stand on the stage, and get a feel for the room prior to their presentation. I always take each presenter on stage, and familiarize them with everything. I show them the slide advancer, confidence monitor and even where the water will be. When possible I let them try out the actual microphone they will be using so they can hear how they will sound because it is easy to be caught off guard by the sound of your own voice coming through a PA system.
These are just a few examples of ways to give your event’s presenters the best chance of delivering successful presentations. After all, there is nothing you can do about the actual content of the presentations, and some presenters won’t be successful no matter what you do. There will always be the presenters that stand behind a podium and read their Power Point slides word for word in a monotone voice, but at least you can rest easy knowing you did your job.
I would love to hear any other ideas that you may have.