Ask people what the most important thing is about a good presentation, and they’ll tell you it’s great content and delivery. Yet when you enter a room, an auditorium, or a concert hall or theatre, the first impression comes from your surroundings. In fact, in a theatre the audience will often clap a scene set when the curtain goes up. Creative agencies are brilliant at this, but smaller budget events often don’t consider this aspect in full, until it’s time to set up and prepare. But the impact matters, no matter how big or small your event may be.
A world sports body decided to cut back this year on their event, because they didn’t want to give the impression that they had spent valuable money on it. In this regard, it worked. For an audience of 500, they went for a trestle table with a white table cloth over it for the host, and chairs from the hotel restaurant for the panel of guests. When the guests were introduced, they found they were short of a chair, so they hurriedly asked someone at the end of the front row, to stand up and pass them their chair. So now they had 4 restaurant chairs and a swivel chair, which was one foot higher than the other four. Every time the guest sat down on it, it rose again to its original height. The host swapped his chair for the swivel chair, but then realised that his knees were above the height of the trestle table, which the audience found highly entertaining.
Passing one microphone around between them led to huge silent pauses, which led the host to rapidly introduce a Q&A. “Yes, we have a question from someone at the front here”. There was a bit of mumbling, and then we heard…”Can he borrow the microphone please”. Then the question finally came…”Please may I have a chair, I’ve been standing for 45 minutes!”
There are smartly dressed women in dresses and skirts who have to go up steps sideways on to a raised platform, and then face the prospect of climbing onto a high bar stool. Even if they manage it, I’m told they can’t concentrate on what they’re going to say, because they’re already thinking about how they’re going to get down again in 20 minutes time.
I have seen the comfy sofa approach, whereby the person has sunk so low into it, that if you’re watching from anywhere other than the middle of the audience, all you can see is a head sticking up above the arm of the sofa. I even had to help a gentleman out of a sofa and on to his knees, where he could place one hand on the coffee table to stand up. Suddenly his financial figures looked less plausible.
We talk about presenting with presence. Maybe that is influenced by how much we not only finesse our presentation, but by how polished we are with our scene setting and furniture.