Mind the Gap

the gap
Those first few moments of your presentation are critical. Gaps/delays between speakers, or a gap between your introduction and the start of your presentation can result in the audience’s attention wandering.

I was at a conference recently in which there was a delay between the speaker introduction and the beginning of the presentation … for every lecture!  Following the introduction, the presenter had to wait for the first slide, or find their own presentation on the computer desktop and open the PowerPoint file. It was like the curtain going up and having no one on stage.

One thing that a speaker can do in this situation is to make sure the presentation is open before they are introduced. Or they can just start without that first slide, they can say “While they’re getting everything going…”  If you have a well designed opening it should be possible to start without that first slide (which is usually just the title slide anyway).  Of course you could get creative; maybe you can use the gap in your opening.  “Obviously not everything is as simple as we would like it; it reminds me of the time…”  There is also the danger that they cannot get the slides going …then onto plan B, using your backup notes.

So “Mind the Gap”, or should I say “Manage the Gap”. It can affect those first critical moments when you need to grab the audience’s attention and bring them into your world.

Joe Pops

Refuse to be boring

Is this thing on?


Have you ever been to a presentation in which the presenter struggled with using a microphone?  Maybe their voice faded in and out, or there was background noise, or maybe you were distracted by the presenter’s own discomfort? Here is some helpful tips so that you can avoid some of the mic pitfalls.

As a presenter there are generally three microphone (mic) types that you may encounter: the podium mic, the handheld mic, and the wireless lapel mic (sometimes referred to a lavalier mic).

The least favorable type from an audience engagement perspective is the podium (lectern) mic.  The podium is a visual/physiological barrier between you and your audience and with the mic attached to it, you get “stuck” there. I always avoid standing behind podiums. If I arrive for a speaking engagement and this is the set up, I always ask for other options; most hotels or conference centers can accommodate this if you ask.  However, if there is not a wireless mic available, professional speaking coach and consultant Lisa B. Marshall advises you to adjust the podium mic so that it is about 8-10 inches away from your mouth.  Then whenever you look around the room or glance at your slides, turn your entire body, keeping the mic the same distance from your mouth (you basically pivot your body around the mic).  This is not a natural thing to do but we have all heard what happens when this isn’t done right … the presenter’s voice fades in and out as they speak.  This is distracting for the audience, and gives the impression that the presenter is not experienced, or polished.

I used a handheld mic recently at a large conference but I found it awkward.  With the slide changer remote in one hand and the mic in the other, it is difficult to make any natural gestures.  If you have to use one, Lisa B suggests keeping the handheld mic just below your chin, with it pointed toward your nose so that you speak overtop of it and not directly into it.

The type I prefer is the wireless lapel mic, although this is not without its challenges.  If using this type of mic for a conference presentation the first thing I do is to take off my conference lanyard. In one instance I had my lanyard rubbing on the mic while I moved around the stage, which caused all kinds of odd noises. You can have the same problem if the speaker is wearing a long necklace.  Lisa B. recommends putting the lapel mic about eight inches below your chin, at the center of your body if possible.  Make sure you understand the on/off and mute buttons – these can come in handy.  With this mic the same rule applies about turning your body instead of just your head to avoid the fade in/fade out effect.

And one final point – use your normal tone of voice.  You may feel like you need to speak louder because you are in a large room, but resist the temptation … that is what the mic is for.

If you have never used a mic, make sure you practice with one (or preferably all types) before your presentation. Using a mic can be challenging but knowing a couple simple tips can ensure a professional outcome. Do you have any other tips for using mics, or maybe some horror stories?

Joe Pops

Refuse to be boring



Lighting strikes twice… is there a “Doctor in the House?”

Sometimes when a large group of people gather to attend a concert, sporting event, or a corporate event (etc), you may hear the call “Is there a doctor in the house?” I was attending a large corporate event in Orlando when it happened during a presentation with an audience of 2,500 people.

 lightning twice

 The presentation was about the military hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The presentation had some graphic images of the horrendous injuries soldiers and civilians receive from landmines and IEDs (improvised explosive device). The presenter described the incredible skill and effort involved in saving the lives and limbs of the (fortunate) people who make it to the hospital alive.

Presentations such as this can be emotional for even the most seasoned health professional; our audience was comprised of some health professionals, but there were many “non-medial” business people who were not used to seeing such images and feeling the intense emotions. Suddenly someone shouted “Is there a doctor in the house?”  Well, yes there was … he was on stage giving the presentation.

So our presenter (who was a doctor in the United States Navy) quickly jumped off the stage and ran down the aisle to see if he could help. Thankfully the person was just overwhelmed by the images and emotion.  So what did our presenter do?  He trotted back to the stage, hopped up, and continued his presentation without missing a beat … exactly where he left off.  The only comment he made was to assure us that everything was all right. I thought WOW, here is a speaker who isn’t fazed by anything, and of course given his experience in Afghanistan I wasn’t surprised.  So, he continued on until…it happened again.  The second time he did the same thing, jumped off the stage, and ran right past where I was sitting to the back of the room.  The situation was the same, so he again trotted back, hopped up again, and finished his presentation (without further incident) completely unfazed.  Double WOW.

Should he have used less graphic images and less emotional stories? No, I believe he wanted to take us deep into his world; into the reality.  I think every presenter should strive for that.  For me, these incidents reinforced the notion that as a presenter you should always expect (and be prepared for) the unexpected. Computers fail, fire alarms go off, and people faint. When it happens (even if it happens twice) you need to go right back to your presentation as smoothly as possible.

I guess the old saying is true, the show must go on.

Joe Pops

Refuse to be boring