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Four Tips Four Presenting at the Meeting Table

Posted May 31 2009 10:16pm

When we think of presentations, more often than not the image is one of a person standing up and speaking to a group.

My experience: The most common type of  speaking and presenting occurs across a meeting room table. In fact, this offers a chance at more intimacy, give-and-take, and takes a lot of pressure off of the "presenter" being on "center stage." (I personally like it because it immediately creates the "we're-in-this-together" dynamic instead of "So, convince us that..."

There are some unspoken and unwritten rules that will serve you well in these situations. Here are a few that I've gleaned from speaking over the years. Many were learned because they were initially violated--by me. 

 How To Manage The Room

1. Seating arrangements.   This can be a big deal. Different organizations have different protocols but trust me: there is always a power protocol.

Wait for your host to give you direction or (preferably) ask ahead of time. Some organizations have a very clearly defined hierarchy. I work with one Executive Board whose secretary--the legal counsel--always sits in the sam Confroom e place, as does the Chairman. In the first case, the arrangement helps him see and hear everyone. In the Chairman's case, it's about being at the head of the table.  Even if the issue isn't about power you may do the equivalent of sitting in The Church Lady's pew on Sunday. (Often more painful than violating corporate protocol).

2. Set-up. Let's say you are using visuals: Power Point, Keynote...

I don't know your experience but I'm still baffled by the fact that meeting rooms continue to be designed as long, skinny areas with a table surrounded by chairs surrounded by little other space--even after we've been using A/V support for 40+ years, spanning Opaque Projectors to laptop-driven slides. 

Arrive a half-hour early to get a feel for the room and:

a. Position the screen and projector (if possible) in a way that everyone can see the slides and aren't blocked by the projector if it's a table top.

b. If you can't move a darned thing, then sit in a seat and get a feel for how best to conduct your talk. Spend time getting used to the reality and how to use it vs. lamenting the fact that the place wasn't designed like a Vegas showroom. You probably don't look great in a feather boa anyway.


3. Know your audience. Yeah, you've heard that a million times before. Can I tell you something?

Thank you for the permission. . .

I will not walk into a speaking situation without having spoken directly to a cross-section of participants before I get there. I mean that. If there are 12 people attending, I'll call at least four first. I introduce myself, the fact that I've been invited, and then ask them what they want to know and how the topic impacts them. The result?

  • I have a good sense of interest, disinterest, hot-buttons, how to tweak the discussion,  and who really has ownership.
  • Four people have heard my voice, I've heard their voices, and I walk into the room having a relationship with a third of the group. In the case of "über-important" meetings I would call all twelve. Even if we only connect by voicemail, they know I tried and they've heard me.

# 3 is my million-dollar suggestion. You will be amazed at what you learn, how much more comfortable and prepared you feel, and how much it will be appreciated. How many people have ever called you before a presentation to ask your insights on the topic?

4. Have a brief discussion after each main point.

Look, if you are there you are selling something--even if it's agreement on how to proceed with an initiative. After each key point, stop and ask, "Before I move on, what questions do you have about the _____?" Then shut up and count silently to ten. If nothing is uttered, ask for verbal agreement from everyone. Silence does not mean agreement. It means you don't know what's going on but they do. Not good.

Why do this after each point? Because if you chug along until the very end--and half the group is still silently mulling over Point #1--you have been talking to yourself.

Help yourself by having them help you.

Now, go make a few phone calls before you set up the room.

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