Turning Pro – Your Pre-Talk Checklist!

When it comes to a successful talk, preparation is everything. I’m not just talking about rehearsal prep here, although obviously that’s crucial, I’m actually talking about the technical preparation. This is the kind of preparation that separates the professional speakers from the amateurs ones.

As you gain more experience and momentum as a speaker you’ll hopefully be invited to speak in front of larger audiences, at larger venues with larger production infrastructure. This is brilliant as it means you can leverage all that tech to make your presentation or talk is even more amazing. However, you should also be aware that with more technology comes more opportunity for ‘technical curve balls’ to be thrown in your direction, curve balls that have the potential to derail your talk, which is precisely why I’ve created a ‘Pre-Talk Checklist’ so that you know exactly what you need to do before you start your talk.

The Pre-Talk  Checklist:

Screen

  • In advance of your talk know exactly what format all screen content should be and be sure to actually create it in that format.
  • Onsite, click through all your slides;
    • Check it’s the latest version of your presentation.
    • Check your fonts have been installed on the show machine correctly so your presentation looks as it should do on the big screen.
    • Double check all the formatting is correct.
  • Rehearse the cuing of any videos in your presentation and play them out, ensuring they work and are in the correct place within your presentation.
  • If you’re bringing your own laptop, make sure you do the following:
    • Bring all the relevant adapters and connectors with you.
    • Turn off any notifications or pop-ups, a “take the kids to dentist” notification in the middle of your talk tends to be a little distracting.
    • Turn off WIFI unless you need it for something as part of your talk.
    • Turn sleep mode off – your laptop falling asleep mid-presentation is nearly as bad as your audience falling asleep mid-presentation.
    • Make sure your battery is fully charged. Although your laptop dying mid-presentation is nowhere near as bad as a member of your audience dying mid-presentation. Still, best to keep it charged.
    • Have a clean desktop and make sure your screen saver is something neutral – a version of your presentation title slide or your business card often works well – a picture of you on your stag-do doesn’t necessarily set the professional tone you might be going for.
  • Find out if your talk is going to be filmed and if so, familiarise yourself with where those cameras are in the room.
  • If there are cameras, ask if there will be live camera relay, (in other words, your lovely face relayed onto the screen… extra-large)! If so, ask to see a test. The last thing you want to do is accidentally spook yourself by seeing yourself.

Sound

  • Check what type of mic you’ll be using:
    • If it’s a handheld mic make sure you know where you get this from, do you walk onstage with it? Does a stage manager hand it to you? Or is it waiting for you on the lectern?
    • If it’s a jawline or a lapel mic find out when and where you’ll be mic’d up.
    • Ladies be careful with long hair, dangly earrings and necklaces interfering with your mic. Interference with the mic will make it pop, LOUDLY.
  • Request a sound check. Run through a section of your talk and get comfortable hearing your own voice amplified.
  • If you’re planning on doing an audience Q&A make sure there are mics and mic runners available to be in the audience.
  • If you plan on venturing off the stage and into the audience during your talk, check with the show team first, otherwise you might accidentally cause feedback. Nothing ruins the mood like temporary deafness.
  • If you have any audio files built into your presentation, firstly, well done for making your presentation more multi-sensory and secondly, rehearse cuing them with the show team so they come in when you’re expecting them to.

Lighting

  • Check how the light levels have been set in the auditorium – you want to make sure you can actually see the people you’re talking to. A note on this, the show team always want the auditorium dark so you might need to fight your corner on this.
  • Know where your light is onstage and make sure you’re always standing in it so that the people you’re talking to can actually see you too.

The Space

  • Get comfortable walking around on the stage. Ladies, wear the shoes you’ll be wearing for your talk and check they’re not too noisy, slippy, or generally too difficult to either walk or feel grounded in.
  • Identify the furthest points in the room, including up ‘in the Gods’ (if there’s a balcony), as you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re talking to all these people during your talk.
  • Familiarise yourself with any objects you’ll be interacting with during your talk; lectern, comfort monitors, autocue, stage furniture – if you’re using a stool you’ll definitely want to try sitting on it first, does it swivel, sink (could be awkward), if there are low-level, comfy chairs you’ll be sitting on, are you wearing the appropriate outfit so you’re not inadvertantly sharing too much with your front row (will definitely be awkward), can you get up from said, low-level, comfy chair with grace and without assistance – all things you need to know!
  • Is there a Countdown Clock? If so, confirm with the show team how long you’ll be speaking for, make sure the clock is programmed for that time and know how it works, does it count up or down, does it explode when you run out of time? All important questions!
  • Is there an Autocue? If so, what type is it?
    • If it’s the ‘presidential screens’ then check the height is right for you.
    • If your talk is directly after another speaker who has been using autocue then make sure a stage manager is standing by to reset it to your height.
  • Are there Comfort Monitors (code for plasma screens at the front of the stage, relaying your screen content or your speaker notes)? If so:
    • Know exactly what they’ll be showing (by the way, comfort monitors are there for the “comfort” of you, the speaker, and they can be configured to display whatever content you’re most “comfortable” seeing, so don’t be too shy to ask for it).
    • Test the comfort monitors so you’re comfortable with what they’re displaying. If it’s your script, make sure you’re comfortable with the format and check the font size is big enough to read easily from all your positions on stage (comfort monitors can also be moved and angled for your “comfort”, so again, if they’re not quite right, don’t be scared to ask).

Final Checks

  • Is the Clicker in place – ask where the spare is because those batteries do run out?
  • Glass of water nearby?
  • Pre-set your cue cards/script or laptop so you can walk onstage hands-free, just in case you want to offer up some snazzy jazz-hands to mark your entrance.
  • Know who and how you’re being introduced to stage;
    • Is there walk-up music?
    • Do you come in from backstage or from your seat?
    • Are there steps up to stage, if so, ladies, again, think about your shoes!
  • Finally, after you’re done with your Pre-Talk Checklist, very important, thank the show team, they’ll love you for it!

Pre-Talk Checklist Complete– Tick!

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