July 1, 2010

Don't forget to check your room

I've experienced two odd conference room configurations in the last month, and I thought I would share them with you.

When I'm booked for a training, I send the organizer a diagram with my preferred room setup. I request classroom-style seating, the screen to my left (in the corner, so I can be in the center), a small table to my right for props, materials, water, notes, etc., and a flip chart either between me and the screen, or behind me.

But of course, you can't always get what you want, and I've ended up in some pretty weird training rooms. Here's the one I was in a couple of weeks ago (click on the image to expand it):

Yes, the room really was as long and narrow as it appears in the image; actually it was a little longer than how I drew it. The flip chart was in the opposite corner from me, and I would write on it, then pull the pages off and stick them to the wall behind me.

Normally, I would stand on the other side of the screen, but that corner was even tighter, so broke my rule and stood to the left of the screen. By the end of the day, I actually had bruises on my right leg from banging up against the corner of the table for five hours!

Here's the room I was in last week:

The table had a hammerhead shape, so that if it was full, some attendees would be sitting with their backs to some of the others in the room. I was lucky enough to get a portable screen at the last minute; otherwise I would have been standing in a tight corner again -- which is typical in conference rooms, but the shape of this table would have made it even more awkward. Since there was no other spot for my props and materials, I took over the right side of the hammerhead.

I usually bring my own laptop and projector so I can place the visuals where I want them. But many rooms not only have no option for a portable screen, they have no space for one, either.

Another meeting room I spoke in recently was actually two side-by-side rooms with the wall between them opened up. Each room had a screen right in the center of the front wall. So the organizer used both screens to project my slides and I stood between the two screens. The room was a little too small to fit all the attendees in classroom-style seating, so we compromised and added some single chairs around the sides.

You never know what kind of crazy configuration you're going to get, so ALWAYS check your room in advance. I don't care if you flew in at midnight and your presentation is at 8 a.m. Get there as early as you can so you can figure out how to make it work best for you and for the audience.

Weird-shaped rooms, posts blocking people's view, loud A/C units, too-dim lighting, uncomfortable room temperature... these are just a few of the hurdles you'll face when speaking. But by viewing your room (preferably days) before your presentation, you will be ready to take on whatever challenges come your way and make them work.

Most important, you won't be distracted by tight quarters or other discomforts and you can give your full attention to connecting with your audience.

11 comments. Please add yours! :

Max Atkinson said...

I just did one in a very large room with heavily carpeted floor and some kind of soft wall-covering. The acoustics were terrible and I could hardly hear what anyone said when asking questions, etc. To make matters worse, the air conditioning was set at at very cold, which seemed to interfere with my breathing and voice - though at least the chill kept people awake!

Trouble is that you can't really tell a client to find another room - especially if you're only there for a day and have a flight back to London to catch the same evening ...

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Whether or not you're only there for a day, I imagine it would be pretty difficult to ask a client to find another room. They've usually got the best room they could find that wasn't already in use! In some cases, I'm in a room that's been rented just for the company's retreat or meeting. In other cases, they only have one room big enough for everyone to attend.

Best speaking engagements for me are at hotels/conference centers, where the rooms are meant for speaking/training, and at universities, where classrooms are already set up (mostly) how I like them!

BillyK said...

Hi Lisa
Also the dreaded projector! I've done a lot of presentations, and normally the projector is set up for me to plug the computer into.

Last week, though, the projector guy decided to set it up for me.

Needless to say nothing worked for a while, making me look like a dill.

Eventually the problem was solved - the projector had two identical 9-pin ports at the back.

He'd plugged me into the wrong one. A relatively easy mistake to make as they were not labelled. Dunno what the other was for, although someone suggested it might be an "out".

Worth checking.



Lisa Braithwaite said...

Sorry to hear about the projector drama!

I recently bought a new projector and have found that sometimes it automatically speaks to my computer and sometimes it doesn't! After having to use a company's IT person twice to fix it, I now know what to do myself. But I was sweating it out a couple of times!

Rowan Manahan said...

I had the opposite problem to Max's at a recent talk - not one thread of soft furnishing in the entire room, a high ceiling and a glass-topped table in a large boardroom. I sounded like someone had turned the Treble up to 11 and the Bass down to 0 on an amplifier!

I had people scurrying around looking for anything that could soak up some sound. We ended up using three Flipcharts with large towels draped over them to act as baffles in the back of the room and some large potted plants up at the front.

Beautiful room to look at, hideous beyond words to present in. And this is the space that this company tries to woo clients in! I have recommended a good interior designer for them ...

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Wow, it's amazing, isn't it, how many meeting rooms are terrible for meetings? Apparently the focus is on design, not function.

Wendy Cherwinski said...

My pet peeve: Event organizers who don't provide enough time to set up, so you can't adjust to the shortcomings of the room. I was about ready to scream on one occasion when the organizer met me LATE! and then started looking for someone to unlock the room, who in turn arrived with about 20 keys and -- you guessed it -- tried every single one before getting lucky. You don't even want to know what was wrong with the room. I am now VERY firm about how much time I need to set up -- especially if I can't see the room beforehand.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Wendy, that sounds like a nightmare. I would say that the person who's supposed to let me into the building/room is late about half the time. Really frustrating.

Dave Paradi said...

Some of the situations I've faced. A room in a university where the lights were so bright over the screen that you couldn't see it well no matter what color combination I tried (and of course there was only one switch for all the room lights). A projector in Orlando that had the red spectrum not working. It had been that way for weeks and it hadn't been fixed yet. Try showing slides talking about colors with that going on. Another room at a university is for computer training and has one screen at each end. So you sit in the middle of the room and no one looks at you, they look at each end of the room. All of us who have presented enough have more stories than can fit here. The key is that we teach others to remember that the audience came to hear your message, not your complaints. Do the best you can, never complain, and most of the time they will just appreciate your message.

Ajit Kamath said...

In India, this is quite common. Most of the venues (even 5 -Star Hotels) are designed for huge weddings that we are so used to here.

The acoustics are terrible, the lights are on switches and at times at the entrance of the room (exactly opposite of where the screen and flip chart stands are placed) in some cases the lights are outside of the room... so if one is using a video, either you need help or need to be a sprinter ;-).

Further even Institutions are designed thus.... so for us, we don't assume anything and check out the room much earlier than the day we deliver.

Some of us have learnt to adapt to all kinds of rooms.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Dave and Ajit. The most important thing is adapting to all circumstances and still giving the audience your best!

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