In Surviving a Room the Size of a Large Airplane Hangar, I talked about the challenges of speaking in a very large room and how I approached the challenge at a specific conference. In this tip I look at the opportunities to turn a small room into the equivalent of a fireside chat.
The Small Room
When your session is in a small room, such as for breakout sessions or client, prospect or internal meetings, you have the opportunity to create a truly intimate experience for the attendees. Your approach should be very different from the example in my earlier tip of dealing with a gargantuan-sized room.
As with any presentation, check the room out in advance and attend at least one other session in your or an identical room if possible. But at minimum, get there early to set up.
- What are the room’s acoustics like?
- Is there a small riser for the stage or none at all?
- Where is the presentation screen located – to the side of the stage, in the middle?
- How is the layout of the room? Wide and short? Long and narrow?
- How much room do you have to move around?
Armed with a good feel for the room you can plan your approach. The benefit of a small room is that it opens up several options to you, because of the intimacy of the audience.
- If the room acoustics and your voice permit it, and your session isn’t being recorded, consider not using a microphone. This let’s the audience know that your session is going to be more intimate, almost a chat with friends.
- If there is a stage or small riser, consider moving to the floor to be among the audience. You can either start your presentation from the floor or I often will jump off the stage. It can help to get the audience’s attention and to stop checking email. For me it us often just part of my shtick – but it signals that I want the audience to join me “on stage,”
- Don’t just stand in the front of the room, consider walking around among the audience. Bring your “presence” up close and personal.
- Read the faces of audience members. If you see someone nodding their head a lot, walk toward them and ask them a question. Get the audience involved in your presentation. Have them confirm your message or start a conversation.
- Be flexible. In a small room, especially for private events, you have the opportunity and challenge of the audience asking many questions or having dialog in your session. These diversions can take lots of time away from your planned presentation duration. I once had a small group turn a single slide I had planned to spend 1-2 minutes on into a 15-minute discussion. It was the best part of the event and presentation, and fortunately we had built in 30 minutes for Q&A at the end so we were OK on time. But also make sure you have a plan in advance on which slides you can either skip or go over very quickly so that you can still end on time.
- Use the screen as a prop. In a small room you can typically walk right up in front of the presentation screen and “annotate” aspects of various slides. I like to point to things, cover numbers up and then reveal them for greater effect. Use your imagination and spice it up.
- Use physical humor/body language. Because you are so close physically to the audience you can use facial expressions, body language and voice inflections and pauses to greater effect than if you are 100 feet away on a large stage. When you are walking around the room, have some fun and use your body, audience members, props in the room – whatever you can find and makes sense – to add life and an additional dimension beyond your slides.
- Handouts and gifts. Always make sure your marketing and events teams are involved. With a group of 25 versus 250, you might be able to print up copies of ebooks, white papers, put materials on USB sticks, provide gifts or toys, place business cards on every chair or desk, and other items that convey the more personal nature of the room or event.
While very large rooms are very exciting because you on a “big stage” and your message is reaching hundreds or more, small rooms and audiences present the opportunity to turn a presentation into a meaningful conversation and greater value for the audience. Make sure you are prepared to take advantage of that opportunity.
Please share any experiences or tips you have on presenting in small rooms.