During your career, you might have the opportunity – or chore – of putting together a workshop, seminar or training session. It may be for work or be a committee task you’re assigned while a member of a professional association. You might be responsible for the content or just be the person in charge of making sure a multi-speaker event goes off without a hitch.
No matter what the reason or your role, you’ll want to make sure the attendees and the people who gave you the assignment are impressed with your ability to put on a great meeting. Following a few basic techniques for creating and running a great presentation will help impress your peers and get you a reputation as an creative and organized professional.
#1 Know your Audience
The first step in putting together a great meeting is to know your audience. In addition to knowing their demographics, such as years and type of experience, work titles and industry, it’s important to know their reason for attending. The true measure of success of any meeting is whether or not the attendees feel they got what they expected. Write down the outcomes you or your organizing body want from the meeting and let all speakers involved know this is your meeting’s theme.
#2 Contact the Presenters
Once you understand your audience, contact your presenters as soon as possible. Discuss with them who your audience is, what attendees will expect and what you want presented. Don’t be intimidated by subject matter experts – give them a solid idea of what you want them to present, allowing them leeway to deliver the material you want in the way they know how. Collect from them a list of the presentation tools they’ll need and how they will present their materials. Let them know what you’ll need from them in terms of an outline or more substantive handout, a biography and a photo. Ask your speakers to make part of their presentations interactive, if possible, such as allowing attendees to break into small groups to answer a scenario or passing out a quiz they can take individually and review as a group.
#3 Handle your Logistics
Once you know who will be attending, who will be presenting what each speaker will need, how long the meeting will be and what the desired outcomes are, start taking care of your logistics. Book your room as early as possible to avoid losing it to someone else. Reserve your podium, microphone, stage riser, flip chart, projector, dry erase board and anything else you need for the room. Many facilities have a meetings planner and/or audiovisual manager to assist you. If your meeting can’t go forward without something, have a Plan B ready in the event something malfunctions during the event. If you’ll have virtual attendees, work with an IT pro to make sure you have all the bases covered.
#4 Develop your Materials
Create attractive attendee materials consisting of a bound notebook or three-hole punched binder. Give your speakers a sample of what you want in advance so you get what you need to create an attractive handout. If possible, ask your speakers to give you their presentation materials electronically, well in advance, so you can create a workbook with the same fonts and point sizes throughout. Include a cover page with the name of the meeting, date, location and sponsoring organization. Have a contents page at the beginning and speaker bios at the back. If you need attendee badges, don’t wait until the last minute to order those – these can take longer to create than you think.
#5 Decide on your Room Setup
You can use chairs only, round tables that seat 8 or 10, have classroom-style tables parallel with the stage or podium, set tables in a U-shape so attendees can face each other, or set the tables in a chevron (or upside-down V formation when seen from above). This allows you to seat more people by letting people sit on both sides of a table.
#6 Manage the Room
On presentation day, get to you meeting well before everyone else to make sure your room is set up correctly. Have a reception/registration table set up and staffed before people start arriving. Make sure snacks or breakfast is set up in an area that won’t block traffic or require facility staff to collect dishes and make noise in the room where someone is speaking. Make sure to remind attendees to turn off personal devices after each break – even if they are not making noise (such as sending texts or using a tablet), that’s incredibly distracting and rude for speakers.
If the room will be filled with people, body heat will raise the temperature. Keep the room temperature low enough to counter this. Avoid turning off the room lights for electronic presentations. This will trigger the production of melatonin in you attendees and cause them to become sleepy. If necessary, turn off only the lights at the front of the room, directly over the presentation screen.
If you’re the presenter, practice reading your presentation out loud beforehand, using any presentation materials just as you will use them during your talk. This will give you a more accurate assessment of how long each section of your talk will take and when you should break. If possible, record yourself to hear and see what your attendees will hear and see.
#7 Amenities Count
Depending on how long the presentation is, you should break for snacks, bathroom trips and quick phone calls. A 10- to 15-minute break after 90 minutes is a good idea, especially if the same person has been speaking the whole time. Have healthy snacks with a mix of lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Avoid excess sugar and fat. Good choices include string cheese, yogurt, fresh fruit, nuts and granola bars. For lunch, serve lean protein such as turkey sandwiches, chicken breast and salmon, along with carbs such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grain pasta, salad and colorful vegetables. Offer unsweetened tea, 100 percent fruit juices, water and low-fat milk along with the obligatory coffee and sodas attendees will expect.
#8 Control the Flow
Controlling the flow of the meeting can be the most single important aspect of puling off a successful meaning. You can be shy about this. Manage the pace of the meeting by introducing speakers, calling for breaks, getting people back into the room after breaks and ending presentations. Let your speakers know you will give them a five-minute signal before they need to stop, which they must respect. This means they must take questions at that time, or their time slot will run into the next speaker’s. Don’t wait for people to come back from breaks – be aggressive in getting people back into the room and start back up without or without everyone, if necessary. If you’re running a meeting where attendees do all the talking, be prepared to tactfully cut someone off if he or she is dominating the session.
If you want to make a final impression, send thank-you notes, ask for feedback (try an anonymous program like SurveyMonkey) and let people know of any other upcoming events you, your department or organization will be hosting.
Do you have any tips about what you’ve learned when attending or organizing meetings or delivering talks?