In an earlier post, Understand The Context of Your Session, I talked about the importance of preparation beyond your slides. The need to be Aware, Prepare and Respond to situations – mostly out of your control. These include aspects such as the size and layout of the room, the speaker you follow, type of microphone and presentation screen, time of day you speak, size of the stage, and more.
In this tip, I share a personal story of how I approached speaking in a gargantuan room.
The Airplane Hangar-Sized Conference Hall Room
A few years ago I spoke at a large retail conference and had a 30 minute slot, the last session of the day at 4:45 pm. Not only was I up against the cocktail reception that started at 5:00 pm I was in the main room where Arianna Huffington had been the keynote speaker in front of more than 4,000 attendees earlier in the day.
My first tip off of what I was up against was when I was giving my slides on a USB memory stick to an A/V guy earlier in the day. After realizing which room I was speaking in, he laughed and said “Oh, you are in the airplane hangar.”
I immediately went to check out the room and discovered it was indeed the size of a huge airplane hangar, set up for roughly 5,000 people. I was anticipating between 250-500 attendees for my session. Yikes I initially thought.
At moments like this you can either panic, get nervous or frustrated – or start figuring out how you are going to prepare and respond to the situation.
During a break between other sessions in the room, I took the liberty to walk on to the stage and get a feel for what it is like moving around on the massive stage and looking out into the cavernous audience.
I then sat in the audience of a few sessions prior to mine that also had a just a few hundred audience members to get a feel for what it was like being in the audience – potentially hundreds of feet away from the speakers. And this conference did not have video screens so that no matter where you were in the room you could see the speaker in near life-size dimensions.
One thing I noticed was that audience members were spread out throughout the entire room, including the back row and farthest corner. But that the majority of people congregated in two areas near the right side of the stage. I decided my plan would be to focus my energies and eye contact on those two areas which made up 80% of the audience.
Because my session was the last of the day and up against the reception, I knew I had to keep my pace fast and energized – which is what I did once on stage. I also had quite a few slides for a 30 minute session, and so kept my usual banter and elaboration to a minimum. That approach would not have worked this time.
The other goal was to leave them wanting more. I was presenting the results of a study and the build up to the end was for people to come by our booth to get the complete study report. The session went well, the audience was extremely engaged despite the time slot, and more than 200 people immediately walked to our trade booth to get a copy of the study report.
The point and lesson, is that every room you speak in has its own unique characteristics – some positive and some negative. But it is your responsibility as an experienced speaker to be prepared and have a plan as to how you deliver the best talk in every room you present.