A lesson in being prepared


Last night, I spoke at a function in Cape Town, and I was almost in big trouble.

Now, I know the venue very well, and I know how long it usually takes to get there. So I left from home, planning to arrive at the meeting at least 45 minutes ahead of schedule, which would give me plenty of time to setup. But three things happened:

  • Firstly, one of the main freeways into town was closed due to roadworks. This resulted in a massive traffic slowdown on the other roads.
  • Secondly, there was another large function on at the venue, so I struggled to find a parking spot.
  • Finally, the meeting was running way ahead of schedule, so while I was expecting to arrive before their coffee a break – during which I would setup – and then speak at 9:15pm, they were already on their break at 8:40pm when I eventually arrived.

That gave me about 10 minutes to setup and test my equipment before speaking. In the end it all worked out fine. I got everything working in good time, and my presentation went very smoothly. But it was too close for my liking. I did not have time to mingle with the delegates beforehand, or to gather my thoughts.

Even though I thought I had plenty of time beforehand, I didnt. So, what did I learn?

Give yourself plenty of time to arrive and setup beforehand (at least 1 ? hours). No matter how well you know the venue/route/meeting arrangements, things can and will go wrong to derail your plans. Arrive early, and be prepared.

Speaker’s Checklist – 20 items to pack

CableIf you are speaking on a regular basis, you get used to packing and unpacking everything that you need for your presentations. However, it is very easy to leave something small behind that you really need!

I have my own checklist of stuff that I always take with me. I use some of them at almost every presentation, and some items (such as spare extension cables) are for “just in case”.

So, here are some things that you may consider adding to your checklist.

  1. Laptop
  2. Wireless (presenter) mouse
  3. Power cables
  4. Extension cables
  5. Multi-plugs
  6. Adapters & cables (USB, network, audio etc)
  7. Masking tape
  8. Presentation on CD, laptop & memory stick
  9. Backup copy of presentation in separate bag
  10. Venue should supply – but check with them!
    • Projector
    • Screen
    • Microphone / AV gear
    • White-board
    • Flip-chart
  11. White-board / flip-chart pens
  12. Conference packs / handouts
  13. Back of room sales items (books, CD’s etc)
  14. Spare batteries
  15. Printout of presentation (just in case)
  16. Business cards
  17. Nametag
  18. Printed introduction (for the MC to use to introduce you)
  19. Change of clothing – in case somebody spills coffee all over you just before you speak
  20. Directions to venue!

What do you pack that is not on my list?

A small thing can have a huge impact – 20 logistical tips

ComputerA few years ago, I witnessed a really small thing having a huge impact on a presentation – in this case a negative impact.

Half way through the presentation I was attending, the presenters laptop died! It was not plugged into the wall, and the battery had gone flat. It took him over 15 minutes to find the power cable, get an extension cable, get AC power running and reboot his machine.

Of course, this ruined his presentation. This would not have happened if he had done a little more preparation (personally my recommendation is that if this does happen, just abandon the laptop and continue without it, or get somebody else to resolve the problem while you carry on with your presentation).

Would you like that to happen to you – well I hope not! Remember, that the best speeches can be ruined because the speaker forgot some seemingly minor details. So, here are 20 things to help you to give a smooth presentation.

  1. Arrive early
  2. if you can, do a dry run the night before at the venue
  3. Check out the stage and seating – change if necessary
  4. Smaller is bigger – rather speak in a small room that is full than a large room that looks empty
  5. Find out what time of day you are speaking
  6. Find out when in the programme you are speaking?
  7. Find out who is speaking before/after you
  8. What are their topics?
  9. Send your slides to the meeting organizer ahead of time – check that he/she gets them
  10. Send your audio/video (AV) requirements to the meeting organizer beforehand
  11. Create a checklist of what you need to bring, and use it
  12. Get to know the audio-visual guy – he will assist you with any technical issues – such as where the plugs are
  13. Ensure that you know how the microphone works
  14. Ensure that there is a NEW battery in the microphone
  15. Test all equipment beforehand
  16. Switch off screen-savers and power-saving options on your laptop
  17. Don’t run a laptop off the battery – use the AC power
  18. Give yourself plenty of time to setup – you don’t want to be setting up when the audience starts to arrive
  19. Have a bottle of still water handy (pref. at room temperature) – it is great to moisten your throat
  20. Have a backup plan for when things go wrong, and sooner or later they will!

What tips should I add to the list?

3 Tips for venue setup

When you are giving a presentation, whether it is a keynote speech or seminar, the venue and facilities can have a huge impact on the success or failure of your presentation, so here are three tips to make your presentation successful.

Small is more

A few years ago, my band was offered a headline gig in one of the live music venues in Cape Town. The problem is that while our band could draw a crown of about 50-100 people, the venue held over 700 people We reluctantly turned down the gig and instead asked to play in their smaller venue downstairs that only held 80 people. The downstairs gig was great – it was full, crowded and had a great vibe – we would have needed at least 500 people upstairs to get the energy we had downstairs.

The same happens when we speak. Sometimes we think "let’s rather book a bigger room – just in case," but in general, the small yet full room has far more energy than the large and empty room. Resist the temptation to book the larger room. You can always bring in extra chairs at the last minute if necessary.

Arrive Early

What has been promised by the venue, and what they actually provide are not always the same thing. If you arrive early you have plenty of time to make last minute changes to the room setup. If possible, check it out a day or two before so that you have time to see the room and make adjustments adhead of time.

Get to know the AV Guy

The AV (audio-visual) guy (or girl) is the person that is responsible for all of the audio visual equipment. He is the person who know where the hidden button is that lowers the projector screen, or where to get an extra extension cable at the last minute etc. If you are speaking at a large conference, you might have a dedicated AV guy in your room, but if it is a smaller function, the venue might have one person responsible for the entire conference setup.

This person can make or break your presentation. Befriend him and he will be willing to assist. Antagonize him, and he might not be able to find that extra adapter that you left at home!

I hope the tips help – good luck with you next presentation!