Being There, Before You're There

In a little more than a month’s time, I will fly to Lisbon, Portugal for the Toastmasters District 59 Spring Conference. It promises to be a fabulous time and I am looking forward to seeing many friends from across Europe.
The organization for the conference has been superb. João De Mendonça and the rest of the Lisbon team have been attending to details for months. All indications are that things are right on schedule. Not surprising.

Last year, I had the pleasure of working with João and Rui Henriques when I spoke at the Effective Communication 2010 conference in Porto, Portugal. Not even the travel chaos caused by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland could stop them from hosting a terrific event. It was a pleasure working with such professionals, knowing that I could focus on my presentations and that other matters were well in hand.

Recently, João posted photos of the speaking venue at the upcoming conference on the District 59 Spring Conference Facebook Page. Those speaking at the conference, particularly those competing in the speech contests, should study them carefully.

Seasoned public speakers understand the importance of being familiar with the speaking venue prior to the actual event. But in today’s world of long-distance travel, we often do not get to visit the venue until the day (or even a few hours) before. Enter the Internet.

Whenever I have a speaking engagement in a new location, I can usually find a pictures of the room online, particularly if the event takes place in a hotel. Most hotels have photos of their conference rooms on line; if they don’t, it is usually not that difficult to get the hotel or the event organizer to send you a couple.

Seeing the room in advance is important. It gives speakers a sense of the space and how open or constrained it will be. Knowing this beforehand, speakers can make appropriate adjustments, if necessary, to their presentations. Seeing photographs of the venue also allows speakers to visualize themselves addressing the audience, much like athletes such as skiers who visualize themselves racing down the course before they actually do it. The result is that the room feels familiar even when you enter it for the first time.

To take a concrete example, let’s look at the photos that João posted and see what they reveal.

They are helpful because they show the room from different angles and provide a good sense of the speaking area. (João also posted a schematic of the room which you can see on the above-mentioned Facebook Page.)

Insights about the venue

Here are some of the things that I have noted about the room:

  • It is big. According to the statistics on the first photograph, there are 430 seats. This means that microphones are almost certainly a must. This means a sound-check beforehand to try out the acoustics. Keep in mind, however, that most sound-checks are done when the room is relatively empty. Once filled with 400 or so people, there will be more ambient noise. Thus, speakers should be prepared to talk a bit more loudly than usual. The last thing you want is to have your words die out before they reach the final rows.
  • The room is wide and deep. Speakers will have to make an effort to connect with people sitting along the sides and in the back. Eye contact will be important. Of course, you can’t make eye contact with every person in an audience of that size. In such cases, mentally divide the room into a 3x3 grid and look at the nine different sections.
  • The stage is big. Speakers should use of it. Doing so will help them connect with those along the sides, as noted above. At the same time, however, speakers must be mindful that their movements must be purposeful and not distract from their message.
  • The room is in the style of a university auditorium. Because the rows are tiered, people can see a speaker’s entire body. This will allow for maximum flexibility in terms of gestures to enhance the message.
  • Those speakers using slide presentation software (for example, for educational sessions) can get a good sense of the size and placement of the screen. Because of the width of the stage, they will be able to move about freely. However, they should be mindful of not standing in one spot for too long, especially near the front of the stage, because they will likely obstruct the view of some of the people in front row.
  • Speakers contemplating using small props should be aware that people in the back might not be able to see it. In such cases, projecting an image of the prop (in addition to having the real thing) might be an option.

As speakers, we want to do everything we can to make sure that our speeches and presentations deliver maximum value to our audiences. Studying photographs of the speaking venue beforehand is a simple but effective step in that direction. Try it the next time you are preparing to speak at a location for the first time.

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    1. Thank you, Faisal. Your support is much appreciated. In fact I am not doing a prepared speech this year. I have too much on the go to be able to devote the time necessary to doing a good job. However, I am in the Evaluation Contest. I have not done it in three years. It is a challenge to give decent feedback in 3.5 minutes, but I enjoy the challenge and I enjoy trying to motivate people when it comes to giving speeches. Thanks again!

      1. John,
        One of the features from your website that I admire the most is the quality and detail of analysis on notable speeches. Although it is true that it’s challenging to give an evaluation of a District level speech, especially within such a short time, you have the mindset for it and I believe that you will do very well. Everyone is a winner at Toastmasters, especially at this level. 🙂

        1. Hey, Faisal.
          Thanks very much for the comment. I have always appreciated your support for the blog very much. I am looking forward to the District Conference in Lisbon mainly because it is an opportunity to catch up with friends from across Europe. I also look forward to the evaluation contest. We’ll see how it goes on the day, but my main goals are to do my best and to have fun.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International