Great LocationThe more presentations I do, the more I realize that (like in real estate) location really matters.

The Lecture Hall

A couple of months ago I did two presentations in a large lecture hall at our regional headquarters in Singapore.  The room had semicircular multiple tiered seating, well designed acoustics and a central semicircular mini-stage that was about 8 inches high. It didn’t feel right for my style since I try not to lecture to my audience. In a room like this it is harder to connect with the audience; this type of room sends the message “sit and listen” rather than “engage with the presenter”.  I had to work harder to engage the audience and used techniques such as asking more questions than usual; ensuring I maintained eye contact, and getting physically closer to them (the mini stage was a challenge).

Interestingly, a few days earlier I had given the same presentation in a different environment…

The Hotel Meeting Room

The previous week in Kuala Lumpur I did the same presentation in a large hotel meeting room to an audience of a similar background.  I had requested round tables with 6 or 7 seats per table.  The room “felt” much better (except the air conditioning wasn’t working) and it certainly seemed that I connected with them quicker and more easily. I believe this was because I was physically closer to them and could comfortably move around the room, and amongst them.

Which brings me to my most recent experience…

The Theater Stage

I did a presentation a couple of weeks ago from a theater stage, complete with bright lights and a balcony.  The theater was on the ss Rotterdam Hotel, which is a boat hotel docked permanently in the city of Rotterdam.  Of all the rooms I have presented in over the last few months I found this one to be the most awkward. It was difficult to see the audience and to make eye contact because of the lights … were they nodding as I made my points or not? I have heard that Steve Jobs always rehearsed in the same room in which he was going to do his big product launches; I did visit the theatre and walk the stage before my presentation but maybe I should have done more work/preparation to get more comfortable with the setup.

My Conclusion

I think presenters often focus their preparation on the presentation itself. While that is important, so is knowing your venue. Control it if you can, but in many cases this is not practical or possible. Do what you can to make it a positive environment, one that enables the audience to connect with you. Always check out the venue ahead of time, and rehearse there if you can.  If we can control the location/room in which we present, or at least get comfortable with it, we will give a better presentations.

Do you have any stories of interesting presentation locations to share?

Joe Pops

Refuse to be boring

5 Replies to “Location, Location, Location”

  1. Large hotel conference room, lit at the front podium, dark in most of the room so already hard to gage audience response. Audience mostly at the back so I had to use the microphone at the podium or I would not be heard by all in the spread out setting- micophone was duct taped to the floor. Laptop connected to projector several feet away, “clicker” to advance the slides did not work. Oh-oh. Think fast! I enlisted someone from the audience to advance the slides using the laptop keyboard. Lesson: Always be Prepared (just like the Girl Guide promise) to speak without your slides if necessary. As Joe has taught me its your message you want to leave the audience with- not the pretty pictures on the slides! And bring your own clicker so you know it will work and it feels comfortable in your hand.

  2. Yup – sometimes you walk into less than ideal situations and have to adapt. The show must go on. If you do have the chance before hand to check out the venue by all means do it. Better to figure out your adaption the day before rather than 2 minutes before. Check out my blog entitled “Be a Boy Scout…” I guess I could have used “Be a Girl Guide…”
    Thanks for the comment Wendy

  3. Joe:
    Henry Petroski told a great story about how an engineer worked around a power failure to save his keynote speech in a hotel ballroom:
    Rooms with extreme proportions, either wide and shallow:
    or narrow and deep:
    can be difficult to deal with.

  4. I once gave a presentation for a large audience (900+ people). The theatre was completely dark and two (!) stage lights were shining on me. I couldn’t even see the people in the front row. It felt like I was presenting to oncomming traffic. ALso, I was filmed and the image was projected on two huge screens behind me, so I felt like I was being watched by myself from behind. The advantage is that it is much easier to get the attention of the audience, but you have to be somewhat of a performer.

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