Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How to Avoid Keeping Speakers in the Dark

Every day on social media I see pictures taken at events where the face of the speaker is hidden in the darkness. Every. Day. This is both frustrating for the speakers, who might otherwise have been proud of the photos. It's also a wasted opportunity for the organizers, who fail to capitalize on the natural inclination of the audience to promote the event through their own social accounts.

But why is the speaker's face so often in darkness? To the immensely adaptable human eye the face is perfectly visible in the room, but to the average smartphone camera the dominant source of light in the room is the projection screen. Adjusting the exposure to adapt to the screen brightness inevitably means plunging the rest of the room into darkness.

Speakers can't really do very much about this problem beyond complaining to the organizers and sending them a copy of this post. They could adopt slides that are less bright -- light text on a dark background is the best -- and by blanking the screen when it is not needed. But the best way to address this problem is for the organizers of the event or the owners of the venue to address the underlying problems.

So what exactly can you do to minimize the problem?

Manage screen light. First of all, ensure that light from the projector never shines on the speaker. This both looks unprofessional and can also be very distracting for speakers. In large venues the problem does not arise because the screen is usually above head height. In rooms with a lower ceiling there is always a danger of the speaker being between the projector and screen but happily there is a technical solution for this problem. There are projectors called "short throw" and "ultra short throw" that can be ceiling mounted very close to the screen, behind the speaker, so that the speaker can walk in front of the screen without walking into the beam. If your meeting rooms still have traditional projectors make a note to fix this at the next upgrade, or right now if you can.

Illuminate the speaker. The other part of the solution is just to have more light on the speaker. With LED based stage lights this can be done very cheaply, without all the problems that used to be associated with theatrical lamps based on light bulbs. You should have at least two lamps, one from each side, to avoid shadows. Make sure that the area covered by the lights includes everywhere you expect a speaker to go. Some people might prefer to stay behind a lectern; others might walk around the stage. Make sure there are no dark patches. And remember to turn the lights on! More than once I have been in venues where speakers were in darkness because the lights were left off for some reason.

If you are an event organizer or venue owner try searching Twitter for recent pictures from your events to see if you have the problem. And if you are a speaker try asking for these problems to be fixed. It's in your interest, too, to come out of the darkness.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

In addition to being a speaker himself Andrew Hennigan provides one-to-one coaching and group workshops for people who want to master the art of speaking. For more details you can contact him at speaker@andrewhennigan.com or +46 73 089 44 75.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How to Practice for Big Speaking Events

When I am coaching people who are going to speak at a major event I always recommend that they practice their talks in a setting as close as possible to the real thing. This doesn't mean that you need to find a spare opera house or stadium to practice in, but that you arrange your own office or practice room so that critical things are in the right place.

Just what exactly are these "critical things"?

When you speak at any reasonably-sized event there will usually be two video monitors on the floor of the stage in front of you. The screen on the left usually shows what is on the big screen behind you so that you never need to turn round. The screen on the right is the countdown clock showing how much time is left. If you are not used to using monitors the problem is that you will not include them in your usual 'scan' of the room and you might miss that the slide didn't change or don't notice the numbers turning read on the timer.

To simulate this setup at home all you need to do is to place on the floor in front of you a laptop to use as the screen monitor and a tablet or mobile phone running a countdown timer. You probably have a timer app already but if not there are many timers on the app store and Google Play.

Plus, of course, you must use a clicker for every practice. For. Every. Practice. If you are not in the habit of using a clicker you can easily forget to move the slides forward. Using a clicker is also much more effective than using the keyboard on a laptop, which distracts the audience. In every presentation you should be using a clicker precisely for this reason, but in big events you simply won't have a choice.

Finally, in most events you will be fitted with a headset microphone. If you are not used to wearing one you might feel uncomfortable when you are miked up, just at the moment of greatest stress before you go on stage. You can reduce this tension to some degree by practicing wearing a headset. You probably don't have one of the expensive mics they use at events -- they usually cost more than $1000 -- but you can use a regular Skype headset. It doesn't need to be good or even to be connected. It is there just to simulate the slight discomfort of wearing one.

If you are planning to use any props make sure that you practice that, too. Where are they going to be when you go onstage? How will you take them out? How will you hold them? How will you get rid of them? All of this needs to be planned and practiced.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

If you'd like to talk about one-to-one coaching for an upcoming event or just to polish your speaking skills you can contact me at 0046 73 089 44 75 or speaker@andrewhennigan.com   I can do speaker coaching face to face in the Stockholm area or through Skype from literally anywhere. There is also the option of group workshops about speaking skills, useful when many people need to learn and budgets are limited.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Design Matters: Lessons from the Oscars Mishap

Sometimes serious problems are caused or at least aggravated by small errors that could have easily been avoided. Recently presenters at the Oscars ceremony briefly misidentified La La Land as the Best Picture because of a mixup with the envelopes.

As so often happens, the mistake was the result of a chain of errors. The representative of PriceWaterhouseCoopers should have handed the right envelope to Warren Beatty, who in turn could have noticed that the card did not say "Best Picture". But any system should be designed so that one error is not enough to cause a serious problem. There should have been additional checks in place to ensure that if the wrong envelope was given to the presenter they would simply ask for the right one.

Looking at photos of the ceremony it is very clear that poor design contributed to this mishap. On both the envelope and on the card inside the critical line "Best Picture" is printed in a very small font that is barely legible unless you hold the card very close. For a teenage presenter this might not have posed a problem, but since Oscar presenters are often older actors it's possible that they could not have read that writing without their reading glasses.

In this case the problem could have been avoided entirely just by redesigning the envelopes and cards to make the name of the award more visible on the exterior of the envelope and make both the name of the award and the name of the winner much clearer on the card. Something like this:

Poor design frequently causes confusion, though perhaps not always with the same consequences. But everyone can learn from this mishap how design really is important, not just in terms of aesthetics, but also in functionality. It's also a reminder that if you want to be sure that something is read correctly never forget that a sizable part of the population cannot read tiny lettering without glasses or lenses.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For information about lectures, workshops; one-to-one coaching and writing about professional communication you can contact Andrew Hennigan on 0046 73 089 44 75 or speaker@andrewhennigan.com.