Communication Skills - Presentation Venue Layout

The importance of the room's layout cannot be underestimated. Layout is composed of a variety of aspects - size, coloring, lighting, position of power points, doorways, work surfaces, and any refreshment facilities. As the presenter your main concern is how these things impact your ability to perform.

This is easiest to control when you are giving a standalone presentation, but there are things you can do in other situations. It is a good idea to arrive early to familiarize yourself with the set up and decide how best to work within the constraints you have. As the presenter you are by default in control of the room so make sure you remove any distractions - for example, by closing open doors or windows that might otherwise divert people's attention.

Presentation venue layout issues

You should pay particular attention to the position where you will present from and the location of any support equipment. By standing in this position you can check the line of sight to your audience.

Are there any barriers that might prevent your audience seeing you clearly, such as columns or projection equipment? If so, can you alter the position of these obstacles or the seating arrangement?

If possible practice your delivery style from the podium or stage to familiarize yourself with the surroundings and see how well your voice carries. You can ask a colleague or one of the venue staff to make sure those at the back can hear you clearly. If they can't, practice adjusting your delivery until you can be heard. Remember that your voice will carry less well when the room is full.

The degree to which you can control the room will vary depending on your level of involvement with the organization of the event, when you are speaking, and whether it is a standalone presentation. If you are first to speak after a break or lunch you will be able to ensure the lights and heating are suitable. Even if you follow another speaker don't be afraid to ask for adjustments to be made.

Make sure you have control of the room and remove anything that detracts significantly from your presentation - for example, is it too bright for people to see your slides? Is the room too stuffy? Does the seating arrangement make it difficult for you to make eye contact? Use the time in your 'pre-introduction' to settle the audience and get the room as you want it; your audience will appreciate your consideration and be more attentive.

Presentation seating plan options

When considering seating it is important to make sure the audience can be both relaxed and attentive; you don't want them so comfortable they fall asleep. There are a wide variety of seating options: some of the most common are show in the diagram above. For large venues this will largely be fixed, but for smaller venues you will have more discretion.

You need to select the one that give you the best eye contact with your audience and suits the purpose and nature of your presentation. For example, wider and deeper rows in theatre style can offer you better eye contact with your audience. In addition you need to assess how clearly your visual aids can be seen by those at the back of the room or on the periphery.

If you need good acoustics and the ability to engage with your audience then a semi-circle or 'u' shape is the most effective format. It does require more space so be conscious of this when deciding on your room size.

Presentation seating

Similarly, if your presentation involves a lot of note taking, or includes workgroup-based interaction, you may want to include tables in the seating plan - but make sure you have easy eye contact. Research has shown that groups of five to eight is the best size to ensure everyone can be included and create the necessary energy within the group.

To avoid everyone sitting at the very back of the room as they enter you can remove the last row of seats so they have to sit closer to the presenter. These surplus seats can then be stacked at the back for latecomers to use and place behind the last row. If you are responsible for setting up the room make sure you consider the following:

  1. Make sure that you can control the ambient light level to suit your visual aids. You may want to check if there are any curtains or blinds in case you need them.
  2. Locate and understand the controls for the heating and air conditioning settings to avoid the room becoming stuffy or cold.
  3. Locate power points and ensure that you have any extension leads and adaptors that you need.
  4. Ask a colleague to stand at the back to assist you with a sound check and check your visual aids are readable at the back.
  5. It is important to keep doorways clear at all times and shut to avoid distractions.
  6. Place refreshments at the rear of the venue to avoid possible distractions.
  7. If you have handouts decide where you will leave them and whether you are giving them out at the start or end of your presentation. (Organizers will inform you prior to the event of their own procedures in this area.)
  8. Ensure that the lighting of the stage area is suited to your presentation.

Depending on the size and level of formality of your presentation it may be a good idea to welcome members of your audience as they arrive. If you are present but wait impassively, or are preoccupied, as the audience filters in it can create a cold and standoffish atmosphere that can be difficult to overcome - regardless of how good your presentation is.

With any presentation you give make sure that you have checked out what equipment is available for you to use. If you are using a PC or Mac make sure you have a back-up alternative to use in case the technology stops working. This is part of the reason why you need to know all the options a venue has and why you need to make sure that you order for the room all you could need.

Asking whether or not you need an extension lead to use your equipment may seem trivial but isn't if the podium is nowhere near a socket! Make sure to ask the venue if you are allowed to use you own equipment or whether it needs to be certified by the venue.

Presentation facilities

When you arrive at the venue make sure that any equipment you requested is present and working properly, and that you understand how it operates if it is not something you are already familiar with.

Typical equipment checks:

  1. A single unfamiliar function or strangely placed button has the potential to stop you when you are in full flow.
  2. When using a slide show check all slides are present, the right way up, and in the correct sequence.
  3. Check that you have a spare bulb for the overhead projector and that you know how to replace it on this equipment.
  4. Put an overhead on the projector to check it is in focus and that the whole of the image can be seen on the screen. Familiarize yourself with adjusting the settings.
  5. When using a PA system perform a sound check, look to see if your clothing interferes with the microphone, and listen for acoustic feedback. To rectify the latter you may need to adjust the volume and/or the position of the microphone in relation to the PA speakers.
  6. Record the technical support extension number so that any equipment failure can be remedied as soon as possible.
  7. Place any pointers, pens, remote control units, and other handheld devices where they are easily accessible.
  8. Having water or another drink handy is important, so that you can avoid drying-up or having an irritating cough for the remainder of your presentation.

Finally, always ensure you at least have a print-off of your slides so that if all technology fails you have something to aid you as you present. As a last resort you can get the venue to copy this print-off so that your audience can see your visual aids.

You may also be interested in:
Giving a Management Presentation | Styles of Presenting | Cue Card Guidelines | Developing a Persuasive Delivery Style | How to Rehearse | Reading Your Audience | Retaining Control in a Presentation | Question and Answer Session | Importance of the Presentation Venue.

Key Points

  • Take control of the venue as early as possible, remove any distractions, and encourage people to occupy seats starting at the front of the room rather than the back.
  • Always have a back-up plan in case the technology fails and you can't use your visual aids or your time slot is shortened.
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