how to lay out the room for your presentation

Lockdown won’t last forever. I’ve written elsewhere about how to make better online presentations, so here I thought I’d change it up a bit and talk about in-the-room presentations for when we can be with our audiences again!

Sometimes there just nothing you can do – I get that – but far more often than you might think there’s a chance to change the way your room works (or doesn’t work!) to help you make better presentations.

Presentation in a luxury venue
Luxury venues like this are the exception for most presenters.

I’m not talking her about the cool theatre-like spaces that you see people posting pictures of. “Look at me, I’m presenting in a cool space!”

Why not? Firstly ‘cos you usually can’t do much about the layout of those rooms and secondly because that’s just not the day-to-day reality of most presenters. Let’s face it, most presentations are in meeting rooms and board rooms.

The simple truth is that most of us, most of the time are going to be presenting in rooms or venues more like the ones below – either a boardroom or a projector on a table… or both!

Presenting with boardroom layouts

presentation in a boardroom

Boardroom presentation setups are a particular bane of my life. It’s almost impossible to have the same relationship with people at the far end of the table as you have withe people at ‘your’ end. As a consequence you end up working too hard with some of your audience and not hard enough with others. Not even professional presenters can make that work without some extra magic.

Pro tip: use a remote control so that you can move around the room and make a point of presenting from the side of the table rather than being stuck at one end. That way you can work more easily with different people and you’re not too far from anyone.

What’s more, it gives you the advantage of distancing you from your slides and puts you in something called ‘second position’ to your audience. This breaks any subconscious association they have between you and the content of the slides. This generally makes the slides’ content feel more objective. The presenter’s personality is less physically obvious.

While we’re at it, think about trying to find a place around the table that allows you to most directly interact with the decision-makers in your audience, not the most engaged people. (You might be interested in this way of targeting who you make your presentations to.)

Presenting with ad hoc set ups

Presentation venue
Admit it – you’re in awe of the colour of my shoe-laces! 🙂

The balancing act of projectors on the table! Ah, the joys!

I mean, who wouldn’t want to fuss of having to put index cards under the projector to make it point high enough, spend time focusing the thing and then have to have one extra thing to concentrate on – namely staying out of the beam of your own projector so you don’t put a shadow on the screen.

Ah yes – the joys of presenting in a temporary room set-up!

Pro tip – to help with keeping out of your own shadow, when you’re setting up, get there in plenty of time and find the limits of the projector’s cone… then mark it on the floor with some coloured tape. It’s generally a good idea to take the tape up before you make your presentation (but if you can leave it down, why not!) but even just a few minutes rehearsal with it in the corner of your eye will get you more used to where you can stand without looking stupid.

And of course it goes without saying that you should get there in pleeeeeenty of time before your audience so that you can mess about with getting the projector sorted out before the audience arrives. People make a link between the quality of your content with other things, such as how well you use the tech – so make your presentation-tech-check something done in private!

Presenting in training rooms

Presentation room with cool screen

Arguably the most annoying room layout is the one that’s a modified training room. The screen here is beautiful, big, bright and powerful… but what about the poor people who are supposed to sit with their back to it?!

Pretty clearly, no one can be sat there… but the simple and obvious solution of just not putting an audience there barely tackles the problem!

Pro tip – if people can’t sit at some of desks and chairs, consider veeeeeeeeery hard how you can simply remove them. In rooms like this the chairs and so on are often collapsable. Not only does taking the unusable tables make the whole presentation look slicker, it has the another advantage – you as the presenter now can easy easily get into the centre of the horseshoe, so you can control better how close you are to your audience.

Here’s how I prepared a training room for a recent presentation

Here’s a quick shot of a training room I was using for my presentation recently. There are a few things I changed before the audience came in.

A typical room for presenting in view 1
  • I’d already moved the flip chart before I took the picture, so that it wasn’t right next to the screen. That means I could stand between the two and also that when my audience looked at one, they were less distracted by the other.
  • I closed the blinds on the windows just enough to stop it distracting (and annoying!) lines and shadows on the walls and flipchart
  • I removed the phone from the front desk!
  • I checked out (in terms of carpet tiles!) where I could stand so that everyone in the room could see the screen without me in front of it (the next photo shows the rest of the room)
  • I moved the tables so that they weren’t aligned directly behind each other to obscure views (but left them in groups like that as my presentation was going to include a lot of group work)
A typical room for presenting - view 2
  • A quick check of my slides from the back of the room made sure that everything was visible (one slide got slightly edited) and that my remote control had sufficient range to work from anywhere in the room and I didn’t have to present from my laptop
  • Had a cup of tea. Okay, so that’s not strictly part of sorting out the layout of the room but it’s an important part of my preparation ritual and a good measure of when you should have got there. If you don’t have time to have a cup of tea you didn’t get to the venue early enough!
  • Played “spot the squeaky floorboard”. Call me cynical but I’ve never met a stage of any size or shape where there wasn’t a spot that squeaked. (Usually it’s the bit you want to stand on most during your presentation.) Find it, note where it is, avoid it.
  • Checked the sigh-lines for outside of the room. Knowing where the audience can see as they look at you and your slides etc is one thing, but knowing what they could be distracted by outside the room is another. On this occasion the glass panel in the door, for example, simply showed a corridor that was rarely walked down so I decided not to do anything about it.

So what do you do to sort out your presentation room layout?

Seriously – everyone’s ideas are different!

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