I am sitting in the Geneva airport as I write this post. I am on my way to Barcelona for a great week of teaching and learning with my good friends and fellow public speakers, Conor Neill, Florian Mueck, Tobias Rodrigues and Tony Anagor.
Today, as always when I travel by plane, I arrived at the airport early. More than two hours before my departure, in fact. Now, the airport to Geneva is not that big and a flight from Switzerland to Spain is fairly routine.
Furthermore, I only live 15 minutes by car—maximum—from the airport.
Two hours was way more time than I needed. In fact, as I write this post, I am sitting in a seat that looks very much like the ones in the photo. (But mine have armrests.) I am at the gate and waiting to board.
I am often kidded about my proclivity for arriving at airports early. Friends, family and even casual acquaintances wonder why on earth I want to arrive so early.
First of all, I travel frequently enough that I have conditioned myself to like airports. I mean, I have to spend time there, so trying to enjoy the experience (as much as possible) is preferable to the alternative. It’s like Mondays. Whenever anyone tells me with a sigh, on a Monday morning, that they hate Mondays, I remind them that Mondays constitute 1/7 (more than 14%) of our lives and that hating 14% of your life as a matter of routine is not a good idea.
But there is a more fundamental reason why I arrive early at the airport. I want to make sure that I get where I am supposed to go, especially when people are counting on me. Arriving early means that I can handle long lines at the baggage drop-off; I will not worry if people in front of me at security keep setting off the machine with coins and belts and whatnot; I can walk at a leisurely pace to the gate and not have to dash through terminals like I was in a parkour competition. (Perhaps I am being old-fashioned, I but consider it common courtesy not to be sweaty and out of breath when I sit beside someone on a plane.) In short, I have time to deal with situations that arise and I am not stressed.
And if, as is usually the case, I arrive with plenty of time to spare, I can find several ways to keep myself occupied: I can chat with my wife if we are traveling together; I can have a beer or coffee or something to eat; I can browse the book stores; I can read any number of things that I have loaded on my Kobo eReader; I can write a blog post (like this one); I can check my email; I can work on ideas for future speeches or presentations. In short, I can find something productive to keep me busy.
I follow the same approach when it comes to speaking. Ideally, I will visit the venue prior to the day of my speech or presentation to check things out. But even on the day, I will arrive 60 to 90 minutes before the event starts. Why? Because I want to make sure that everything is perfect.
What can you do when you arrive early? Plenty! For example:
- Meet the organisers and any last-minute changes to the schedule
- Meet the technician(s)
- Connect your laptop to the beamer and make sure the presentation is running properly
- Do a sound check
- Prepare the speaking area (lectern, walking space, flipcharts, handouts, etc.)
- Where necessary, arrange the seating the way you would like it
- Adjust the lights and curtains
- Adjust the temperature
- Locate the rest rooms
- Have drinking water available
- Review the notes of your speech or presentation
- Get a feel for the room
The last thing you want to be doing is scrambling to fix some problem with people settled in their seats and only minutes remaining before you are supposed to be on stage.
And when all of the above has been done and you still have time remaining, why not say hello to the first people who arrive? After all, they are there to see you and will almost certainly be happy to chat. Doing so helps you build rapport with some members of the audience even before you take the stage. And that is a good thing.
So the next time you have a speech or presentation, take my approach to airplane travel and arrive early. You’ll be glad that you did. Bon voyage!