Supercompetent Speaking: Audiovisual Presentation Tips

The audiovisual requirements for audiences of five, 50, and 500 people are very different.

By Laura Stack, MBA, CSP

Small presentations in cozy venues can be effective, but presentations in larger rooms with hundreds of people require a much different audiovisual setup. The audiovisual requirements for audiences of five, 50, and 500 people are very different.

In a small group of five, you can get away with simple tools: a flip chart and whiteboard may be sufficient. You won’t need to deal with complex lighting, powerful projection, and sound systems. Even if you do go high-tech, you’ll rarely need much more than your laptop, a projector, and a screen or wall.

However, for larger presentations, you have much more to consider. Some tips:

  1. Prepare multiple copies of your presentation in different formats. Never only save your presentation to your laptop, because if your computer decides not to boot up after one too many runs through the X-ray scanner (or you drop it, or it’s cracked after the guy in front of you puts his seat back too quickly), you’re toast. Instead, copy a version to your flash drive, drag a copy to DropBox, or send an attachment to your Web-based e-mail account (such as HotMail or Gmail) that you can access from anywhere.
  2. Don’t just use your slides as handouts. It takes a lot of time to create slides, and the few times we gave out my slides, we found out some of the audience members used them to give their own presentations within their companies. Plus, the slides generally have pictures that don’t make sense by themselves without me to expand on the point. So, we no longer give out slides, but we do create a PDF handout that complements my presentation. Attendees can download the handout from the conference site, or the client can photocopy it for the conference notebooks. We hired a graphic designer to create a template, and we customize it for each client. The workbook contains activities for them to complete as I speak, so it’s better for them than the slides anyway.
  3. Design your slides properly. Slides should be easy to read, with purposeful use of color to match your branding or meeting theme, a provocative illustration, and a single talking point. Use at least 24-point font for all text (the bigger, the better) and keep the text itself sparse and straightforward. I try not to use complete sentences the audience has to read. You want them paying attention to what you have to say, not reading while you’re silent, or worse yet, reading to them. The picture and words on the slide should trigger your next point and allow you to take off from there.
  4. Check the venue in advance. If youcan, go see the room before your presentation. See how the chairs or tables are set. Check out the position of the podium and make sure you’re comfortable with its placement. I like the podium placed stage right, so I can walk the rest of the stage without having to walk around a podium stuck in the middle. Verify there’s power. If possible, plug in and test your computer to ensure the projection works. Walk the stage and feel the room, picturing the audience sitting there.
  5. Set up early. Arrive well before your presentation to make sure everything still works and to get your equipment set up. Get the lights up FULL. The audience will still be able to see your slides, because large projectors have high lumens. You want as much energy in the room as you can get; a dark room signals the brain to sleep. Note the locations of the exits, so you can help people evacuate quickly in an emergency.
  6. BYOM. Bring your own microphone (think about how many people have spit on the one before you). I use a CountryMan over-the-ear model. You unplug the regular microphone cord from the transmitter they provide, and plug in your own microphone. I never tell the audiovisual folks I’m bringing my own headset, because that freaks them out. You want them to provide the same microphone as usual, because you’re just bringing the headset. Some 99 percent of venues will use a Shure system, but I bring different adapters for other models, just in case. Do a sound check with yours before starting, because the volume varies when you switch out the cord.
  7. Observe proper audiovisual etiquette. Never walk in front of the projector! Never speak with the projector shining on you and the words all over your face! It’s a rookie mistake, but I’m stunned how many people still do it. Never turn your back to the audience to read your slides; if you must, read from your laptop on the podium, so you’re always facing your audience. Make a point and then blank your screen (in PowerPoint, you can hit “B” on your keyboard while in SlideShow mode). You want the attention on you, not your slide.

After you finish setting up, mingle with the crowd. Make some friends, so you have a few friendly faces in the audience you can speak to. With confidence everything’s in place, you can make the audience your top priority.

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, is an expert in productivity. For more than 20 years, her speeches have helped entrepreneurs, leaders, teams, and organizations improve output, lower stress, and save time at work and in life. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides time management workshops around the globe that help attendeesachieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time. Stack is the author of five bestselling productivity books, with more than 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, most recently “What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do.” Her newest work, “Execution IS the Strategy,” hits bookstores in spring 2014. Connect with her at;; or


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