Are you new to the world of live presentations? Perhaps you finally got that Big Dog position in management or someone tapped you as a subject matter expert in your chosen field. Whatever the case, welcome to the glamorous world that we call “Business Theater!"
Presenting in a large space - the ballrooms and convention centers of the world - is a big step up in intensity from the conference room and whiteboard setting you're comfortable with. Standing in front of six people is always easier than six hundred, but you can do it with a little help.
As any veteran presenter will tell you there are certain things that will race through your mind before getting a few big shows under your belt - “Do I really know my material?" “How do I look?" and the one make-or-break question you may not think of until walking onstage. . . “Who has my PowerPoint file?"
Your file is most likely in the capable hands of your professional graphics operator. Affectionately referred to as “punch monkeys, " they’re the ones backstage, behind the curtain or in the control room cleaning up and advancing your slides while you concentrate on dynamic speaking! More often than not a beginning presenter does not realize the support system he or she has hidden behind drapes. On larger shows there may be a hundred people or more running around the room right up until the audience enters. As showtime nears they scatter away to their operating stations and get “on headset" for “doors. "
Before the doors open, there’s a good chance your operator knows your slides as well or better than you do. If your presentation is part of a daylong or weeklong conference, he or she went through it a dozen times looking at formatting, spacing, colors and readability. They might have transferred it into a show template sharing a common background or color scheme to match printed show materials. They also arrange content if needed – usually splitting up long slides into two or three pieces to increase font size - and that's not something you want to be surprised with onstage! So what should you do? Get to know your operator!
Before the audience shuffles in for the big event, take a few minutes to meet your crew and discuss your presentation. Any football team relies on well-practiced play calling to succeed on the field. Like them, you should go over some basics so the operator can get in step with your style and you can get in step with any adjustments to your file.
Every presenter is different in his or her timing and vocal style but some aspects of a presentation are pre-determined. For example, how will you advance the slides? Here are the options you should always discuss with your crew before addressing your audience.
In a perfect world, our actions would be scripted! With a little preparation (i. e. , time) your operator can mark cue points or highlight keywords for slide transitions and bullet point readers. Even if you stray from your lines here and there, this is the most solid method of keeping your slides on track.
Some scripts are elaborate text documents with specific graphics and camera shots called out in the left column. Another type of script is a simple copy of your Notes pages. Many presenters include possible ad-libs or expound upon items mentioned in their notes that may not appear as material on the slide above.
If you don’t use a script, most production companies will offer a cue signal. Typically one signaling device is hard-wired and attached to the podium, and the other is a loose wireless version in case you like to walk the stage. You simply press the button, and move to the next slide in your sequence. This device doesn't actually advance the slide, but it tells your operator to advance by triggering a small light or an audible tone every time you hit the button. It's a time-tested and trusted Pavlovian system.
Some presenters find using cue switches awkward; and non-signals or double-signals are commonplace with inexperience. A good operator will compensate 99% percent of the time, but a non-signal can create an awkward pause while the speaker waits for something to happen!
The other two ways of advancing through your presentation are a little more of an adrenaline rush backstage. Let’s call them the “next slide, " and the “big breath. "
The “next slide" is very conversational or informal and simply leaves you as a presenter to call upon your transition. In front of large audiences, this may be too casual - and can be obnoxiously repetitious combined with a large deck of slides. On smaller shows or in unusual situations where you may be a “guest speaker" within a presentation with five or six minutes in the spotlight, this may work just fine.
One tip if you like using this method is to switch up your cues verbally. Rather than saying “next slide" for the 100th time, feel free to say something like “continuing on, " or “when we advance. " Some speakers can do this so seamlessly that it works as well or better than a cue light when a sharp puncher is tuned into the style.
The “big breath" is the ultimate in seat-of-the-pants presenting, and not for the weak. A solid speaker with an experienced graphics operator can turn this into a winner, with a little luck. Here's why. . .
Because you know your material, you have internalized and memorized the points on each slide. As you slip and slide through your page of bullets or cover each chart, you will take a natural longer pause and deep breath when it is time to go to the next slide. For this to work, a rehearsal or two with your crew comes highly recommended - particularly for any ad-libbers!
In the end, it's up to you to create the “wow factor" onstage. By working together and performing in sync with your graphics operator, you can do great things! Review your deck, let them know what you plan under the lights, and rest assured they’ll be watching, listening and on your side.
Take a minute and get to know them. Then put on a great show!
Gary Lewis is a graphic designer with over twenty years of experience in television production, post production and presentation design.
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