NEVER Assume When It Comes to Your Presentation


Posted on 25th February 2012 by Kristin Arnold in Group Interaction |Interview |Questions |Set The Tone |U R #1 Visual

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Last night, I attended the Phoenix Business Journal Women in Business Awards Program.  450 men and women gathered to celebrate the success of 25 women who are leading the way in the Phoenix area.  Held at the historic Biltmore Hotel, I was thrilled to meet so many influential women.

Why?  After 20 years of facilitating high level meetings, I still don’t see a huge influx of women in the boardroom.  I won’t go into why (I’ll share that for another post!), but I will share that I was proud to see our community embracing these women.  As the publisher announced the name and read a short bio, the award recipient reached into a bowl and drew out a question to be answered – and then answered it!  Most of the comments were genuine, heartfelt and superb advice for anyone (man or woman) who aspires to be a leader.  One woman actually said, “World Peace” in a nod to the Miss America Pageant!  All in all, it was a truly enjoyable evening and I will plan on attending next year.

Although…..I hate to admit it.  I was disappointed at the same time.  Each of these lovely women were in the front row and were not called up onto the main stage to answer the question.  I understand why, as one woman quipped, “Glad I didn’t have to wear a bathing suit for this!”.  However, the award recipients were standing in the dark, with a small halo of light shining from behind them from the main stage – where they should have been.

Even the keynoter, Renie Cavallari, had to artfully dance from the right to the left of the mainstage during her presentation.  Why?  Because the multimedia projector (which was on a center table) was ON the entire time!  If Renie spent any time center stage, she was illuminated with the bright red scrolling, the name of the event, and the event sponsor logos.  When I chatted with Renie later (she is also a member of NSA), she had “assumed” the audio/visual (A/V) people would have blanked the screen.

It really was no big deal.  Renie is a pro and she didn’t let this little snafu bug her one bit. Lesson learned for me is to NEVER assume.  Think through not only the content and delivery of your speech, but the little things that impact the ability of your audience to see you and hear your speech.

One of the ways I try to remember these kinds of things is to have a pre-event packing checklist.  Fellow blogger and author of Confessions of a Public Speaker, Scott Berkun has an even better one here.  Use these checklists as a guide; better yet, develop your own!

What kind of things do you have on your checklist? 

Audience-Centered Seating for Your Presentations


Posted on 20th January 2012 by Kristin Arnold in presentation skills |Set The Tone |U R #1 Visual |Visuals/Props

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You walk into the room and see a traditional seating set-up for your presentation.  Theater-style with two columns of chairs, with a path down the middle.  The overhead screen is at the front in the middle of the room.  Looks pretty good, right?

While typical for many meeting venues, and perhaps most comfortable for you, the presenter, meeting planner, or hotelier, it is NOT the best seating arrangement for an audience-centered presentation.

So what’s wrong with straight rows?

1.  Focus.  The seats directly in front of the speaker are the only decent seats in the house.  Everyone else has to adjust the view to get a direct line of sight to the presenter.  And yet we give up this prime real estate to a multimedia projector table or vacant space for a center aisle.  Whenever possible, place the chairs in front of you, the speaker:

2.  Energy Drain.  Any feng-shui expert will tell you that the energy flows out of the room through a center aisle.  Wherever possible, keep the straight row center section right in front of you, with an aisle in between each outer seating section.

4.  Safety.  You may want to have some ability for people to get in and out of their seats, so you can modify the seating with some extra aisles starting a third of the way from the stage.  This way, the energy won’t flow out of the room!

5.  Blocked View.  Unless you are sitting in the front row, there will always be somebody taller or wider in the seat in front of you.  If you are lucky, you will have a semi-obstructed view of the presenter.  Worst case, you have to lean one way or the other just to get a clear view. Wherever possible, stagger the chairs so they aren’t lined up like soldiers behind each other.

6.  Pain.  Unless you are sitting right in front of the presenter, chances are you must turn your neck slightly to see the presenter.  If you are on the far reaches, then you are probably putting more weight on one butt cheek than the other and are constantly readjusting your seat!  Do this for an extended period of time, and it starts to hurt!  Wherever possible, angle the chairs toward the presenter.

7.  Disconnect. If you want to connect with the audience, the best way is to enable the audience to connect with each other.  They simply can’t connect with each other if they can’t see each other. Straight rows allow each person in the row to see only one person on either side (and the back of somebody’s head – but that doesn’t help connection!)  Wherever possible, curve the seating around the presenter, so the audience can see each other.

Finally, if you can, ask for the overhead screen to be placed on the left, looking at the front of the room (otherwise known as upstage right!).  Since we read from left to right, make it easier for the audience to “read” what you are saying by placing the screen to the left of the stage (downstage right in theater terms).  Place the screen at the same depth as you will be standing and close enough to your center position so that your audience’s eyes won’t have to travel a great distance from you to the screen.  Furthermore, should you have to point to something on the screen, you can use your right hand without turning your back to the participants!

Depending on the venue’s capability, you can transform a ho-hum, boring traditional theater-style room set into an audience-centered seating arrangement.  Being able to view the presentation in comfort, as well as to see each other enhances the dynamics of the presentation.  In the best of all possible worlds, orient the seats toward the front so they can comfortably connect with the presenter and with each other.


8 Tips on the Proper Use of Visuals


Posted on 1st December 2011 by Kristin Arnold in presentation skills |Props |U R #1 Visual

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shutterstock_243815026Well used visuals can push a presentation to the next level. Many times I have noticed a presenter making mistakes when using visuals such as talking to the screen, chart, model, or other. If you want to create a relationship with the audience, you have to look at them rather than your beloved visual. Keep the following in mind next time a visual will be part of a presentation you give.

Focus on the Audience. Talk to the participants, not to the visual. Stand so that the visual is stage right. Practice this a few times—not just in your head, but physically practice using the visual. Do a practice run until you feel comfortable using the visual and any associated equipment.

Be Relevant. Any visual you use must be relevant and enhance your message. Otherwise, the audience will spend their time trying to figure out how the visual connects with your message.

Be in Sync. The visual should complement your spoken words and not be redundant. As you speak, the logic of the visual should be revealed to your audience. You should not have to explain its meaning in excruciating detail.

Be Visible. Your audience should be able to see or read the visual within a few seconds—even those sitting in the back row. If not, try something different.

Keep It Simple. The best visuals are simple and easy to understand. If the material is complex, or you want more impact, think about how you can do a gradual build: start with an easy-to-understand visual and work up to the more complex. You can also put more detail in a handout or takeaway.

Avoid Clutter. Remove anything in the line of sight of the participants that does not add value to your presentation.

Customize. For each visual, see if there is a simple way to customize it for your particular audience: the topic, the event, the theme, and the organization—including its logo, tagline, mission, vision, and goals. When you personalize your visuals, it shows you care about the audience and what’s valuable to them.

Fire when Ready. Show your visual only when you’re ready to use it. Introduce the visual and then reveal it—or, for a hint of surprise, reveal the visual and then introduce it. Don’t forget to put it out of sight when you have finished referring to it.

The Eyes Have the Full Monty!


Posted on 13th July 2011 by Kristin Arnold in presentation skills |U R #1 Visual

I don’t go to many plays, but everyone was raving about the musical, The Full Monty, so when some girlfriends were visiting from Toronto and Montreal, I figured, what the heck.  Let’s go!  Unfortunately, Friday night’s performance was up against the Cavendish Beach Music FestivalRicky Scaggs and Johnny Lee were set to play on the north end of the island, so  Charlottetown Confederation Centre of the Arts main theatre was not exactly full.  I would say the theatre was about a third full.

And yet Jerry, the main performer was singing to the rafters.  In a full theatre, singing to the “cheap seats” is a great strategy.  It makes the entire room feel included.  However, with such a small group, he never connected eyeball-to-eyeball with the audience. We were sitting in the third row (GREAT seats!) and he never looked in our direction.  Not once.

People like to feel included and the best way to do that is to look at them.  I’m not talking about staring.  Just look at someone for a second or two, and then go find another friend in the audience and connect with them.  Make sure you cover all the major quandrants of the room – in no particular order – and just have a conversation with your eyes!

LOVE this Nametag!


Posted on 21st June 2011 by Kristin Arnold in Engaging Mindset |Opening Activities |presentation skills |Set The Tone |U R #1 Visual

What’s not to like about a nametag?  It serves an admirable purpose: allowing others to know your name.  It is an invitation to say “hello.”  A conversation starter.  And when you are presenting, it allows you to call people by name and connect with the audience.

There are several things that drive me NUTS about nametags as well:  They don’t stick, they swivel so you see the back of the card rather than the name.  And the worst offense of all: the name is written so small, you can’t read it.

Imagine my delight yesterday when I attended the Arizona Association of Facilitators meeting.  LOVE this nametag!  I could see people’s names across the room! (okay, so it was a classroom, but impressive nonetheless!).

Are you making your nametags large enough for people to read your name from across the room?

Use a Microphone for Presentations with More than 75 People


Posted on 20th December 2010 by Kristin Arnold in presentation skills |Set The Tone |U R #1 Visual |Visuals/Props

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shutterstock_115648024I have been doing a fair number of presentations to different chapters of the National Speakers Association.  Some fill up the meeting room (Go Ohio and Northern California!) and some are more intimate (Yeah Pittsburgh and Tennessee!).  Like most people, I like the more intimate conversations and don’t want to be bothered with a microphone.  HOWEVER, if you are presenting to more than 75 people, do us all a favor and use  a microphone.  Lavaliere or handheld?  No one really cares.  Use a microphone.  Even if you think you have a loud, booming voice.  Use a microphone.  It is not about your voice; it is about the audience’s ability to hear you.  So put away your pride and speak into a microphone.  Even in an audience of fifty it’s pretty nifty for everyone to be able to hear you!

Better yet, learn a little something about microphones.  How to turn them on.  How to turn them off before you go to the restroom.  How your mouth needs to be relatively close to the microphone to be heard.  And how to fish the little wire down your shirt so it doesn’t distract the audience by flopping all around.  (BTW, I use a Samson SE50 Omnidirectional wireless headset – and I highly recommend Bill Johnson at

While I’m on my micro-rant, please be nice to the A/V people.  Okay, be nice to ALL people, but especially the A/V people.  Find out their first name and use it.  Say thank you every once in a while.  Do your sound check with them.  Wander around the room while you do a sound check.  Note the “hot spots” (too much feedback) with masking tape on the floor – and don’t walk into the hot spots!  Then make sure the A/V person takes a piece of masking tape and notes your sound level on the mixer board – and then writes your name next to it.  If there are multiple people on the program, you will sound perfect – and the audience will be able to hear you!

You are the Number One Visual in a Presentation


Posted on 13th December 2010 by Kristin Arnold in U R #1 Visual |Uncategorized

shutterstock_49786516In the early days of staged performances when there was no electricity, the light on the performer was cast by burning chalky lime in pots at the front of the stage.  When performing downstage close to the pots, you were considered to be in the “limelight.”

While we have electricity these days to power the lights, sound systems, and multimedia projectors, never forget that the audience is coming to hear you.  YOU are the number one visual in any presentation.  While you are in the limelight, your connection to the audience, your energy, and your message are more important than any other visuals you may use.

Embrace Technology During Your Presentations


Posted on 30th November 2010 by Kristin Arnold in Polls |PowerPoint |presentation skills |Questions |Speaking Trends |U R #1 Visual

shutterstock_189835049Newsflash:  You no longer have to stand in the dark.  Any multimedia projector packing at least 2500 lumens has enough candlepower to project a visible image in a brightly lit room.  You should know this by now, but oddly, many people still stand in the dark while the PowerPoint plays on.

If your eyes glazed over at the mention of lumens, then hold on to your seat because the Luddite in you isn’t going to like this: You should know the capabilities of every type of technology in the room.  At the very least, you should know how to turn the projector on/off, sync up your computer, and advance your slides using a remote control.

For example, If 90% of your audience has cell phones (common enough these days), then let the audience know how they can use their cell phones to respond to a poll or feed questions to you. If you are brave, project the feed onto a screen behind you (this is called a “twitterfall”.  Ain’t that cute?) so all can participate in the “back channel” discussion – the conversation going on in the room while you are speaking.  [Note:  I was just quoted in article about this at – check it out here!]

Can’t make it to the meeting due to a volcanic dust cloud covering European airspace?  Skype it in – but only if you are extremely comfortable using the technology.   That means practice using the technology – not just once, but a few times.  Oh, and have a backup plan for ANY technology that you intend to use as good ol’ Murphy might have different plans for you!

Change This: 15.5 Ways to Make your Presentation Go From Boring to Bravo


Posted on 9th September 2010 by Kristin Arnold in Engaging Mindset |PowerPoint |presentation skills |Questions |Set The Tone |Stories |Task Individuals |U R #1 Visual |Uncategorized |Visuals/Props

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I received a call a few months ago from the folks at  Turns out they wanted me to write a “Change Manifesto” on making presentations more engaging and interactive.  Now that’s a good fit!

As part of 800-CEO-Read, they found out about my new book, Boring to Bravo and wanted to highlight the topic.  They only do five business books per month, so this was quite the honor.

So download it here – it’s free – and let me know what you think!

What’s Between You and the Audience?


Posted on 12th May 2009 by Kristin Arnold in U R #1 Visual

Last week, I was facilitating an important corporate meeting where the Senior VP kicked off the event.  An eloquent speaker, he started strong and ten minutes later, he was standing behind a chair.  Perhaps he needed to lean against something or maybe he missed having a lecturn to speak from, I don’t know.  What it felt like (at least to me) is that he was creating a barrier between him and the audience.  I don’t think that was his intention, either, but maybe his subconscious was saying something else?