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Best and Worst Room Set-ups for a Keynote Speaker

Posted by Jody Urquhart on Tue, May 31, 2011 @ 11:04 AM

speaker for safety conferenceYesterday I was a guest speaker for a safety conference. When I arrived at the venue, I was surprised to discover that I was actually speaking in an ice rink - minus the ice, thankfully. 

Over 300 chairs were set up classroom style around long tables. The rink was sectioned off,  and 35 or so exhibitor booths around the outskirts gave it a really cozy feel (and kept exhibitors in the room as a part of the learning experience). There was a narrow aisle down the middle of the room and a nice stage (two feet high) built up front.

Thankfully, the sound system rocked. With high ceilings, sound tends to really echo and sound hollow. The ceiling had over 15 large speakers to help keep sound in the room. They also had a space cadet style microphone that molds around the face, moves with you, and literally sits an inch from your mouth.  While speaking for the safety conference, the large lit scoreboard at the side of the rink helped me guage my content and interaction (three hours) throughout the presentation.

The ice rink was unique, and it really coordinated well with the safety theme.

The room design and sound system transformed a big hollow room into a great learning environment. I figure if you can create a great learning space in an ice rink, you can do it almost anywhere.

As a keynote speaker, some of the worst room set up I have seen:

  • Where sight lines are blocked by pillars or other obstructions
  • The room is long and narrow, with a large open space down the middle. If you look straight ahead when speaking you are staring at the empty floor. If you face either direction, the other side of the room can't see your face. 
  • A stage with too much stuff on it. Tables, a podium, plants, flags. I find most of this distracting and leaves the speaker afraid of knocking something over. Podiums can be a challenge and because I don't use notes so I dont use one but generally ask the meeting planner to remove it. Sometimes it obstructs the vision for some people on that side of the stage.
  • A stage (or audience) that is does not have proper lighting
  • Microphone cords that people can trip on (speaking of safety)
  • A stage that is 20 feet off the ground where you have to scale a wall to get back on it or you have to walk a mile around it to the side stairs, making walking into the audience more difficult
  • A stage that is too far away from the audience

The best room design is:

  • I love a well lit auditorium with a big digital clock
  • A well spaced classroom style or round table room set up
  • A well lit stage (a foot or two off the ground) with just a microphone or small podium
  • A well lit audience
  • A great microphone that moves with you when you turn your head.

Incidentally, the other speakers for the safety conference agreed the ice rink made a surprisingly great venue!

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Tags: guest speaker, keynote speaker, guest speaker for safety conference

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