Proper room set up for presentations

This week, I was looking back over the 100 plus blog posts and podcast episodes that we have released. One of the things that hit me was that there is a very important part of the presentation that I have totally overlooked. In fact, this is one of the first things that I train my instructors on when I train new trainers. This important part of the presentation is the room setup. Proper room set up for a presentation can actually improve your performance in front of a group.

The downside is true as well. Improper room set up can actually make you more nervous and make delivering the presentation more difficult.

Below are some of my favorite ways to set up a room for a presentation. These are the “best practices” that I have discovered over 20 years of presenting.

Best Practices for Proper Room Set Up for a Presentation

1) Present from the Short-Side of the Room.

This seems pretty basic, but you’d be shocked if you knew the number of times presenters violate this tip. I think this occurs because people get presentation rooms confused with media rooms. For instance, if I go to a movie theater, I want to have the screen take up the whole wall. I came to see the movie. However, if I came to hear a presenter, the bigger the wall behind the speaker, the smaller the speaker will appear.

In the podcast that I did about eye-contact, I gave an example of how this can cause challenges. The analogy that I used there was to think about sitting in a movie theater with only three rows of seats. If you happen to be on either end, your view isn’t great. If you are the speaker, it is even worse. It is difficult for you to keep eye contact with the people on either side of the room. Present from the short side of the room

To fix this, just present from the “short” side of the room. If you are presenting in a rectangular room, you will have two short walls and two long walls. Present from the short wall that is farthest away from the main door to the room.

2) Make Yourself the Center of Attention, Not the Visual Aid.

People will often put the visual aid screen right in the center of the presentation wall. When you do, you are basically saying that the visual aid is more important than what you are saying. Instead, set up your presentation screen off to the side. This will allow you to present from the center of the room. (You will be the center of attention.)

When presenters violate this room setup tip, it can cause some major problems with delivery. For instance, the speaker will often move to the side of the room and look at the visual aid screen as he or she speaks. Obviously, the audience will look at the screen as well. Now that the visual aid is the center of attention, the speaker will often move behind the audience to continue to speak. Instead of being an interesting dialogue between the speaker and the audience, the presentation will become a monologue.

This room set up for a presentation can lead to the click… talk… click… talk method of delivery. (This is really borning.) So, move your screen to the side.

3) Get Rid of the Lectern.

Many presenters like to stand behind a lectern and put a few notes in front of them. (People often mistakenly call a lectern a podium. A podium is actually a raised platform that a speaker stands on.) This is bad on two counts. First, now there is a barrier between you and your audience. Second, when you refer to your notes, you will lose even more connection with your audience.

If you feel like you need to have notes to deliver your presentation, make sure to read How to Memorize Your Speech. This post gives a number of tips that will allow you to deliver your entire presentation without notes.
Town Hall Style Presentations
Just so you know, standing behind a lectern is a technique that presenters sometimes use to feel more comfortable. In reality, though, it often makes people more nervous. Any time we feel threatened, we want to put something between us and the potential threat. In martial arts, students are taught to put their hands (fists) between themselves and the threat. For presenters, we put a lectern between us and the threat. A good example of how the demeanor of a presentation changes with a lectern is political debates. Candidates who feel like they have an advantage connecting with voters on a personal level always favor “town hall” style debates. (Just as an FYI, audiences do too.)

4) Place Whiteboard or Flipchart to the Proper Side When You Set Up Your Room for a Presentation.

If you are going to write on a flipchart or whiteboard, place it to the side of you that is opposite of your writing hand. I’m left-handed. As a result, I will place my whiteboard to my right. I do this so that when I write on it, I don’t have to turn my back to the audience.

If I forget and place the board on the wrong side of the room, I will have to cross in front of the board and stand on the opposite side to write. I makes for an awkward transition in the speech.

5) Chevron Style Room Set Up for a Presentation.

My very first professional speaking coach was a big believer in the “Chevron Style” of room setup. She had good reason to think so. If you are looking for a way to set up a room where the speaker has the best connection with the audience then this setup is perfect. This style works best with six-foot by one-foot classroom tables. However, it can also be used with any type of room where there are multiple long, skinny tables.

Basically, you set up your room classroom style. This is rows of six-foot tables straight across. However, put an isle in the middle of the room that is maybe six-foot or so wide. Then, move the edge of the table that is on the isle back about three feet, so that the tables now angle toward the front-center of the room. Instead of the rows being straight across, now, they will be slightly “V” shaped.
Room Set up Diagram
When you set up your room for a presentation this way, you are creating a stage to present from. Basically, you can now walk into your isle to be closer to the audience. However, when you do, the folks on the front row don’t have to crank their necks to follow you. They will be looking directly at you.

Best Practices for Room Set Up for a Presentation in a Boardroom

If you are presenting in a boardroom, many of the tips still work. You still want to present from the short-side of the room. If the room has a dropdown screen that is in the center of the room or on the long-side of the room, you can always just project onto a whiteboard. (I do this a lot when I use boardrooms.) It allows me to be able to write on my slides as well, so it is really helpful.

The biggest suggestion I can make about presenting in a boardroom is to stand up when you speak. If everyone is seated in the boardroom (including you) when you start your presentation, just stand up to call attention to your visual aid. (Then don’t ever sit back down.)

Never, ever, ever sit on one side of a boardroom table and use visual aids on the opposite side of the table. This is the HUGE mistake that amateur presenters make that will cause your presentation to be so boring, you will put your audience to sleep. Avoid it at all costs. Stand up and use your visual aid to add to your verbal presentation — not replace it.