Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sussing out your speaker space: A checklist

Emily Culbertson posed this question some time ago: What should you know about the room in which you're speaking?  The room--especially its technology--is one of the six sets of questions in my checklist to prepare the whole speaker.  But here's a longer list of factors to consider when you're finding out about the room where you'll be speaking.  
  1. What's the size and shape of the room?  Where should I stand? Is that my only option?
  2. Will I be able to move around the room while I speak? Is there a remote and a portable microphone so I can control my technology if I move away from the front?  What's my range of motion with them--how far from the base technology can I get before sound fails or the remote stops working?  (That last question's important for speaker-phone-aided conference calls, too.)
  3. What's the seating arrangement for the audience: theater-style in rows? classroom style, in rows with chairs and tables in front of the audience? open-square? U-shape (which lets the speaker walk into the square)?  Can I move around that arrangement for better eye contact and engagement?
  4. If there's a lectern, what's on it or built into it? If a laptop is resting on it, is there room for anything else?
  5. If I need a whiteboard, easel and flipcharts or something to write on, will it be available?
  6. Is the room glass-enclosed or otherwise open to view or sound from another room?  Are there blinds or partitions to help avoid distracting views and noise?  If there's piped-in music (this happens in restaurants and other venues), can it be turned off?
  7. Where are the electrical outlets for the speaker's laptop (or other technology)? Is there wireless Internet access? Hardwired access?  Will participants be able to get online, tweet or use email?
  8. What will serve as the screen--a pull-down screen? A wall?
  9. Will I need technical support for the sound system?  Can I meet that person 1/2 hour before my talk to go over what needs to be reviewed?
Several of these items might best be answered with an emailed photo -- especially of the room shape, seating, the lectern from the speaker's viewpoint, and more.  Or, if you have access to the room ahead of time, pull out your cellphone or Flip camcorder and record your own details.

It's rare, in my experience, that you'll have accurate answers to all these questions before your presentation. That's because others will have incomplete information or make assumptions that are different from yours. (I can't tell you how many times I've arrived to find no available electrical outlets or some other fragile technology, with the organizer saying something like, "Oh, there MUST be an outlet" when, in fact, there isn't one.)  So your job is to have that plan B, C, D and perhaps E, standing ready to adapt.  That's the most important question to ask yourself about any room: What will I do if it doesn't work the way we are hoping?  Share the questions you find it useful to ask about the room in the comments.

Making a message: using analogy

Making a message memorable is like checking your looks in the mirror:  The result has to work for you and for your audience. When you're trying to get your message across, analogy's a rhetorical device you can use to help you recall what you want to say, and help your audience remember it, too--if you think it through with care ahead of time.  Here's what to keep in mind when you're drawing comparisons to make your message stick:

  • Look for analogies that carry your message through all three points:   This description of investment opportunities in a changing market builds on the well-worn phrase "that train has left the station," but carries the three points of the message forward, describing investor's uncertainty (they think the train's left), the opportunity they don't see (there's always another train coming along) and, finally, what they should be focused on (deciding when to get on board).
  • Want to convey movement through either space or time?  Use transportation analogies, like the train example above, or sports in which either the athlete or the ball are moving (think swimming laps or hitting the ball out of the park).
  • If you're describing scale and size, be careful with your measures and numbers.  Make sure they have some bearing in your audience's reality--stacking things up until they reach the moon sounds cool, but who knows what that really feels like? Check out this advice from Wall Street Journal "numbers guy" columnist Carl Bialik, who recounts some of the worst (and most effective) measures you can use in analogies.  Tip: Beware the odd comparison, like how many high-priced shoes all Americans could buy if we didn't go to war with Iraq--you'll just leave the audience members scratching their heads over that one.
  • As with most message tactics, don't overdo.  One analogy is plenty for a message--or even an entire speech.  And if you're using other rhetorical devices, like alliteration, don't use an analogy.  You'll dilute the impact, and, worst-case scenario, wind up confusing rather than cementing your points.
Related posts: Glue to make your message stick

Good speeches: Messages in threes

How to develop a message

Want to see how not to do this? Check out this post of funny, if failed, analogies.