At a recent seminar, I watched as four different presenters stumbled to give different talks while the audience devoured their lunch. If you’ve got multiple people speaking in one session, here are some tips to make the event go smoothly.
As with almost everything, preparation is key. There’s not a lot you can do on the fly once you have multiple presenters in the room, but if you have even an hour or two ahead and a few extra minutes, you can make a huge impact.
Attention is a Scarce Resource
If you’ve got an audience there to hear your presentation, keep in mind that the more people there are, the more distractions there will be. Add that to the waiters delivering food, buzzing devices in pockets, and people’s recollections of what else they have to do that day, and it’s a wonder anyone is listening at all!
That means you need to make sure that every minute is planned. You can reserve 20 minutes of unstructured mingling time, but once you start the clock for the program, keep moving forward. Borrow an expression from the world of theater: the show must go on!
The Agenda is Simple, But Essential
If you have a plan for a multi-presenter event, you must have an agenda. Here it is:
Host → Presenter 1 → Host → Presenter 2 → Host
It’s the job of the event host to do the following:
- Welcome the audience
- Explain the overall plan for the program
- Introduce each speaker
- Manage the time to ensure speakers don’t run over
- Thank each speaker
- End on time
The secret to finding a good host is to look for someone who is engaging, but not overly talkative. We’ve all been to programs where the person on stage tended to ramble or whose monotone voice put us to sleep. Look for a host that will keep things moving and maintain positive energy throughout.
It’s Not Three Presentations, It’s One
Too often, the presenters each show up with their own laptop and there’s a process of switching cables and resynchronizing the projector. This never goes as quickly as it’s supposed to, and audience members are watching, waiting, and wondering.
Instead, get all of the slide decks in advance. Instead of just asking people to send you their PowerPoint or Keynote files, have them export them as images. That way, you don’t have to have the same fonts installed, the slides will still look the same as they did on the original machine.
Then: combine all the slides together into one big presentation. Add a black slide between each presentation. And if someone doesn’t have slides, just add a slide with their name, title, and employer in the corner to appear while they speak.
X Marks the Spot
One of the best items to have in your presentation toolkit is a roll of masking tape. Place a bit on the floor and tell your presenters that’s where to stand and not to move. This keeps them from tripping over one another, and also helps prevent one of my huge pet peeves: making shadows on the screen.
You’d be surprised how much people tend to respect a piece of tape on the ground if you tell them it’s important. And if you happen to be recording the presentation on video, you’re camera operator will appreciate you.
Keeping It Moving and Bucking Expectations
Of all of the problems that happen with multiple presenters the worst may be the impact of time on the audience. With more than one speaker everything is magnified. An extra few minutes of setup feels like an eternity if it’s happening between speaker #2 and #3. Someone who goes into a long-winded answer to a question will drive people batty—because they know there is an entire Q&A session with another presenter yet to go!
To solve this problem, tell your speakers (and potentially your audience) that you will be using a timer and will be ruthless about cutting them off. Think of it like the Academy Awards: the music is going to start playing, so get it done in the timeframe!
Second: if you’re going to take questions, consider announcing in advance that you’ll take at most three questions per speaker, no more. Count off the questions as they are asked as a reminder. And you may even want to pass out index cards so people can write their questions down and pass them up instead of giving the floor to an audience member.
Multiple Speakers: Greater Risk, Greater Reward
You can draw a bigger crowd with more speakers, but there’s a greater danger of one of them causing a problem. It’s worth it: but plan ahead and make your event a success!