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Once you've identified the audience, the next thing you need to understand is the venue. What kind of room you will be presenting in? Whenever possible, make sure you take a brief walk through to familiarize yourself with your presentation space. However, in many cases that's just not possible or practical. I can't count how many times I've been whisked off a plane in a strange city, stuffed into a cab, and tossed in front of a live audience. Sometimes business travel is so chaotic we don't get the luxury of two-minute walk though.
That's why I'm a huge fan of using a room checklist before every presentation, even a presentation closer to home. A simple checklist can be very grounding. It also makes me less likely to forget tiny things that make a big difference, like batteries and backup devices. I've included a room checklist in the exercise files. You'll note that it includes three key sections: room dynamics, audience dynamics, and speaker equipment. Under room dynamics, you'll see five broad questions to ask a person who knows the room.
Generally, you'll want to know the size and shape of the room, how many seats, if there is a raised stage, or if there is anything unusual you might want to know about the room. By unusual I mean anything that you might have to work around, like a pole or a support beam in the middle of the room. Many hotel and conference centers' websites provide room floor plans so that you'll know exactly what to expect. If it's possible, go online and look at the floor plan, then speak to somebody to confirm your findings. It's also important to understand audience dynamics. Will they be sitting theater style, chairs only arranged in rows, or will they be seated classroom style, or will you be presenting boardroom style all gathered around on table.
Also, find out if your audience will be sitting in the dark or in the light, and will they be eating and drinking during your presentation? All of these audience dynamics matter when you're crafting a speech or presentation. A large audience sitting theater style in a darkened room is probably going to be less conversational and interactive than a small audience sitting at tables in a well-lit room. Finally, use the checklist to ask about any equipment you might need. For most out-of-town business presentations, an event or meeting coordinator is happy to tell you exactly what's available to you and what you'll need to bring yourself.
Even when I'm really familiar with the room, I like to print out a checklist and use it when I pack, just to make sure I haven't forgotten any little detail that can enhance the audience experience.
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