Rehearsing Your Way To A Successful Presentation
The single most important thing you can do to guarantee a successful presentation is to practice. Once your
slides, overheads or screen show visuals are completed, set up a projector and run through your speech several times. If possible, arrange to practice in front of an audience of friends or co-workers. Here are some things to work on during your practice sessions:
- Adjust your pacing and vocal inflection to enhance your audience's interest. Change the speed of your delivery for variety. Vary the pitch and volume of your voice to emphasize points. Strategic pauses project confidence; stop talking occasionally to let the audience catch up to what you are saying and gather their thoughts.
- Be aware of your posture and hand gestures. Don't just stand stiffly with your hands clutching your speaker notes - relax and communicate with your entire body.
- Practice making eye contact with audience members. As you move from point to point in your speech, switch to another audience member. Maintaining eye contact personalizes your presentation and will help alleviate any nervousness you may feel.
- Get accustomed to changing your overheads, controlling the slide projector remote, or clicking the mouse for a screen show. Practice getting the visual to change at the appropriate moment in your script.
- Mark slide change cues and other comments clearly on your speaker notes.
And when you think you've got your presentation perfected, don't stop; practice some more.
Staging Your Presentation
In a perfect world, you would be able to walk into any good-sized corporate office or hotel conference center and find a completely equipped little theater: with professional projection equipment, perfect sightlines, good microphones, proper amplification, and a full-time electrical engineer to keep it all running smoothly. In a perfect world, you could also teach pigs to fly.
In the real world, a presenter has to work with the space he or she is given. Turning an empty room into a suitable place for giving a presentation is called staging and it involves everything from setting up chairs in the meeting room to distributing handouts to the audience as they leave.
The best planned and most beautifully designed presentation is useless if the audience can't hear the speaker or see the presentation graphics. Your goal in staging any presentation is to make it as easy as possible for the audience to get your message - loud and clear.
Audiences fall into two general categories when you are staging a presentation: large, formal audiences in a theater-style arrangement and small, informal meetings in a conference room. Each category presents different problems for different presentation methods. Some of the factors to consider when staging a presentation are:
- Projection Setup and Sightlines: The relationship of projector, screen and audience seating for maximum visibility.
- Speaker Position: Where the speaker places himself in relation to the audience and his graphics.
- Audibility: Making sure the speaker can be heard by everyone in the audience.
- Room Lighting: Adjusting the ambient light in the room to suit the presentation medium and audience needs.
- Handout Distribution: Controlling how the audience receives printed materials.
A great deal of the work involved in staging a presentation can often be turned over to professional audio-visual staging companies (look in the Yellow Pages under "Audio-Visual Equipment - Renting & Leasing"). These staging companies can handle everything from a single slide projector setup to large multi-speaker, multi-projector presentations complete with equipment operators.
Most presentation setups are do-it-yourself affairs which only require a little advance planning. To understand the challenges of meeting room setup, let's look at some ideal arrangements which can serve as guidelines.
Staging A Slide Presentation
Slide presentations are still the most popular form of communication in the business world. A smooth, trouble-free presentation can make all the difference in getting an audience to act on your message. No meeting room is perfect, so stay flexible, plan ahead, and take a few precautions against disaster.
Slide Presentations in a Large Meeting Room
It is often difficult to maintain clear lines of sight when projecting slides for a large group. As shown in Figure 13.1, the projector is behind the audience, and should be placed high enough that the cone of light from the projector to the screen isn't blocked by the heads of seated audience members. The ideal height for the projector would be at the same level as the center of the screen, but this is difficult to achieve outside of a fully-equipped theater. Audio-visual and photographic supply stores carry projector stands with telescopic legs which can raise a projector up to six feet, clearing most audience obstacles. A proper projection screen will give better image quality, but a blank, white wall will serve as a screen. Remember, if you project onto a colored wall, it will tint your slides, possibly resulting in some very strange color effects.
Figure 13.1: Slide projection setup for a large meeting room
You should stand to one side of the screen (with or without a podium) close enough that the audience can see you peripherally while looking at the screen. Make sure your remote control cord is long enough to reach the podium from the projector. There should also be a reading light on the podium to light the script and to provide some illumination of the speaker's face if no other light is available.
One aspect to consider when presenting in a large room is whether the audience will be able to hear the speaker. Most conference centers, hotels and other meeting places will provide microphones and amplification in any room large enough to require them. But if you are speaking in a large room with no amplification, have someone sit in the back of the audience to tell if you are audible. You may have to adjust your "personal" volume control to be heard.
Slide Presentations in a Conference Room
To project slides for a smaller group in a conference room, the simplest solution is to place the projector on the conference table or on a separate table at the end opposite the screen, as shown in Figure 13.2. The projected image will clear the seated group easily, even if the projector is placed directly on the conference table. The speaker should either sit off to one side at the screen end of the table, facing the group, or stand next to the screen. Run the remote cord for the projector under the table. One special consideration when using a slide projector in a small conference room: The cooling fan on most projectors can be quite noisy. You may have to speak up to be heard by those sitting closest to the projector.
Figure 13.2: Slide projection setup for a small conference room
The rich colors and predominantly dark backgrounds used for slides require that the overall room lighting be kept fairly low. Bright lights in the room, especially if they shine directly on the projection screen will cause the colors of the slides to wash out. Text will be difficult to read and color contrast in graphics will disappear.
Arrange to have a room lighting control available at the podium. If that is not possible, agree on a lighting change signal between the speaker and whoever has access to the room's lighting controls.
Don't leave the speaker in the dark however. A separate light on the speaker will greatly increase audience attention, if it can be done without washing out the screen.
If you are taking your own projector to a meeting, you can't count on having anything you need available. So be prepared for the worst possible scenario; pack some insurance along with your projector and slides:
- A 25 foot extension cord; because the nearest outlet will never be within reach of the projector's power cord. Also, include a three-prong adapter in case you need to project in an older building which doesn't have modern wiring.
- A spare bulb for the projector; because your projector's bulb will blow out at the worst possible time. Depending on your projector, there are several different types of bulb. Make sure the replacement you buy matches the type for your projector. Learn how to change the bulb quickly.
- An extension cord for your projector's remote control; they come in lengths of up to 200 feet. 50 feet should be more than enough for most meeting and conference rooms.
- If you are using glass pin-registered mounts, pack some spares wrapped in tissue or plastic bubble pack. A dropped tray can crack glass mounts.
- A clean, lintless cloth for cleaning slides and projector lenses. Kodak Film Cleaner (available from photo supply stores) will remove stubborn dust and fingerprints from slides.
- A small roll of aluminized duct tape (also called "gaffer's tape" -- after the head electrician on a movie crew) for taping cords to the floor to prevent audience members from tripping on them and destroying your projector (not to mention breaking their necks).
Staging An Overhead Presentation
Overheads offer many advantages when you need to make a presentation where there is a lot of room light or if you need to actively interact with your projected graphics. Most overhead presentations take place in smaller meeting rooms, but we will also cover using an overhead projector in a large room.
Overhead Presentations in a Large Meeting Room
Because of the relatively short projection distance (called the throw) required for overhead projection, it is usually necessary to place the overhead projector at the front of the audience next to the speaker, as shown in Figure 13.3. While this eliminates the possibility of an audience member getting in the way of the projected image. It places the speaker and his projector directly between the audience and the screen. It therefore is necessary to project the image high enough on the screen so that the speaker doesn't block the image. The first row of the audience needs to be set far enough away from the speaker and the projector to be able to see the screen above.
Figure 13.3: Overhead projection setup for a large meeting room
You should stand at the side of the projector in such a way that your writing hand is closest to the projector. That way, when you need to write on a transparency your body won't block the projector's light. If you are using a portable LCD display screen on your overhead projector connected to a laptop, use a long cable to connect it and change the speaker's position to the left or right of the screen as if for slide projection.
Make sure there is a surface next to the projector large enough to hold two stacks of transparency frames; one stack as a supply, and one for those already used. The supply stack should be in the order of the presentation, top to bottom. As you remove a transparency, place it face down on the used stack so they will be in the proper order when you are finished.
The same concerns about sound and amplification for slide presentations also apply to an overhead presentation in a large room.
Overhead Presentations in a Conference Room
The conference room is the natural place for an overhead presentation. The easiest way to set up your projector is the same as for a slide projector, at the end of the conference table opposite the projection screen, as shown in Figure 13.4. Deliver your presentation while standing next to the projector, using the conference table to hold your transparencies. The only unavoidable drawback for this arrangement is that your audience may look like a tennis crowd, looking back and forth between you and the screen.
Figure 13.4: Overhead projection setup for a small conference room
Overhead transparencies are perfect for use in a partially-lighted room. When designed with light backgrounds and dark text, they will be readable even under full room light conditions (although not in a brightly sunlit area).
Be Prepared II
Most of the precautions suggested in the section on slide presentations apply to overheads as well. In addition, make sure you bring along a few blank transparencies if you feel you may have to improvise during the presentation.
Staging A Screen Show Presentation
Imagine being able to make changes to your visuals moments before beginning your speech. Or fielding complex financial questions from your audience and being able to show them your answer directly in a spreadsheet or by creating a chart on the fly. Connecting a computer directly to a large video monitor or to a video projection system makes this and more possible. The catch is that video systems are still not as standardized as other presentation media.
If you walk into a conference room with a carousel full of slides, the odds are extremely good that your slide tray will fit on someone else's projector. If you walk into a meeting with a laptop computer, there is very little assurance that you will be able to just plug it into the TV set in the room and start showing your presentation.
The wide variety of standards in computer displays and the interfaces that connect them to monitors and projectors is beyond the scope of this book. This part of presentation technology is changing rapidly, so before getting involved with video and screen shows you should talk to a reputable computer dealer who also has experience in video projection. Some imaging service bureaus are now also providing production and advice on screen show presentations.
Producing a screen show in your own conference or meeting room is simply a matter of purchasing compatible equipment and software and getting a reliable dealer to install it. Taking a laptop computer on the road with the intention of using it to present screen shows is another matter entirely.
Taking A Screen Show On The Road
If you are taking a screen show on the road, it is very difficult to "rely on the kindness of strangers" because of the many different projection systems available. You should always determine in advance what sort of projection or display system is available in your intended meeting space and whether it is compatible with the computer you will be using. Of course, you can always tote your own video system around, but you'd better have a strong back.
Large video projectors generally do not travel well. Apart from their large size and weight, the bumping and jarring which accompanies air or automobile travel can put them out of alignment (causing color problems and ghosting) or shut them down entirely. If you are giving presentations on the road to large audiences, your life will be easier if you contract with a staging company to set up a video projection system in each location.
There are several new models of video projector which are smaller and more portable, but they can't fill as large a screen as the larger units. If you are speaking to audiences of no more than 40 people, one of these units may be perfect for you.v
Using Video Projection in a Large Meeting Room
Using a video projector in a large meeting room is a hybrid of slide and overhead projection setups as shown in Figure 13.5. Usually, video projectors have a short "throw" similar to overhead projectors, requiring them to be placed close to the front of the room. However, video projectors can usually be placed much lower, greatly improving the sightlines of the audience. The speaker and his computer can be placed to the side of the screen as in slide projection.
Figure 13.5: Video projection setup for a large meeting room
Room lighting for any sort of video projection should be kept low (as for slides) since projected video images, which have much lower contrast than projected slides, are easily washed out by ambient light.
Using Video Monitors in a Conference Room
In a small conference room, you may only need a large-screen monitor (27" to 35" diagonal screen) to display your presentation. A single monitor can be placed at the end of the conference table. The speaker can stand with his computer next to the monitor (as shown in Figure 13.6) or the show can be operated from a seated position at the table (as for slide projection).
Figure 13.6: Video monitor setup for a small conference room
You can also use 2 or 3 smaller monitors depending on the layout of the room. Multiple monitors will require a special video signal enhancer/splitter which amplifies the video signal and the directs it to several monitors simultaneously.
Room lighting can usually be set much higher when using video monitors instead of video projection. However, be careful of glare and reflections on the monitor screen which may reduce readability.
Distributing handouts during a presentation is disruptive and distracting to the audience. Keep their attention focused by distributing handouts either prior to the presentation or after it. The layout and size of the meeting room will determine your handout strategy.
Large Meeting Room Handouts
If your audience needs their handouts during the presentation, place copies on each seat in the meeting room, face up. Handouts which are intended for distribution after a presentation should be placed on a table or chair at every exit to the meeting room. You should announce at the end of the presentation that they are available. This "self-service" approach won't guarantee that every audience member gets a copy. If it's essential to give handouts to every audience member, have people stationed at the exits to give copies to each person as they leave.
Multi-page handouts should always be bound or corner-stapled. Never use paperclips - they will pop off in the bustle at the door, causing a nasty mess, especially if your handouts are "self-serve".
Conference Room Handouts
The informal nature of a conference room makes distribution of handouts easier. Place bound or stapled copies of the handouts at each seat, or distribute them in person immediately after the presentation.
The Real World:
On The Road
Monday, October 15, 10:00 AM:
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm George Spelvin, Chairman of Hypothetical International. It's a pleasure to be here today at Dewey, Cheatham and Howe to talk about the future of Hypothetical and your role in making it happen. With me today are Alan Smithee, our President, and Victoria Regina, our Chief Financial Officer.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In the past 15 years Hypothetical has taken many steps in growing to the company it is today. But the time for walking is over. And the time has come to fly..."
The journey for this presentation has been a long one. But today, standing in front of his audience, George is confident of success. All the elements of an effective, persuasive presentation are at work:
- A thorough presentation plan covers all the information and arguments needed to persuade the audience.
- The outline is organized for a dramatic pace and tells the Hypothetical story effectively.
- George and his fellow executives have written clear, conversational scripts, and have rehearsed them diligently.
- The presentation graphics are well-designed, with concise text slides, message-driven charts, and attractive illustrations and photography.
- High-quality slides illuminate the screen behind him, and professionally printed and bound handouts are in the hands of his audience.
- There is a spare projector bulb in his briefcase.
"...and if there are no further questions, I'll take no more of your valuable time. Thank you."
George steps from the podium and shakes hands with John Doe, president of DC&H. "Thanks for the forum, John. I hope we gave your people the information they needed."
"That was a fine presentation, George. Why don't the three of you join me at the University Club for lunch, and we'll discuss some details."
How will the stock issue go? That's not part of our story. Of course, like any cautionary tale, this saga does have a moral: PLAN AHEAD! Despite the pitfalls encountered during the presentation design and production process, Hypothetical International adhered to a plan which developed a message, focused their creative efforts and guided them through the rough spots.
Murphy's Law says: "Anything that can go wrong, will." When it comes to presentations, Murphy was an optimist. The complexity of creating a presentation, changing financial figures, the pressure of other job duties, all become a fertile ground for serious chaos. But when all is said and done, a presentation is a lone speaker in front of an audience. Everything that comes before; the planning, the production, the practice, all affect the persuasiveness of that speaker's message. An effective presentation does not guarantee a successful outcome for your goal. A well-planned, well-designed, and professionally delivered presentation can be a big step towards achieving that goal.
Presentation graphics programs are the newest tools to create exciting, informative presentations using your computer. But like most tools, they are only as good as the person using them. Take the effort to master your software, learn to plan and organize, and make your next presentation fly.
When the production work is finished on your slides, overheads, screen show and handouts, your final tasks are to polish your delivery and arrange your setting:
- Rehearse! Rehearse! Rehearse! Practice your speech as much as possible, using your slides or overheads as they become available.
- Arrange your meeting room to provide the best possible projection environment for your slides, overheads or screen show.
- The projector should be positioned so the audience doesn't block the projected image.
- The speaker should be positioned facing the audience, and not blocking the projector or the audience's view of the screen.
- Pay special attention to the volume of the speaker's voice. Use microphones and amplification where necessary.
- Adjust the room lighting to the presentation medium (and vice versa). Don't try to project slide or video in bright room light conditions.
- Be prepared! If you don't know the conditions in which you'll be presenting, pack extension cords and other accessories to prevent disaster. And if you think you do know the meeting conditions, pack your accessories anyway.
- Distribute your handouts in a way appropriate to their use in the meeting. Always staple or bind handouts - never use paper clips.
- For large presentations or video projection situations, contract with a staging company to ensure a professional setup.