There’s nothing at all wrong with taking a public speaking gig at a banquet or luncheon. In fact, you could turn this circuit into your bread and butter if you’ve got the chops, but keep in mind that your presentation is not likely to be the main course, at least to a certain percentage of the attendees who are there for the fried chicken. Over the years, we’ve noted a few factors specific to the banquet arena that could make the difference between a well-received speech or a miserable hour in the spotlight. In fact, here’s eight of them.
1. Table Spacing – Some facilities allow for a large amount of room between round tables in order to fill up the auditorium space. If you have any pull at all with the powers that be, have the tables grouped as closely together as possible, while still allowing for the servers to move comfortably between them, of course. Too much space in between allows the crowd to feel like a bunch of individual islands rather than a cohesive audience. Believe us, it’s tough to talk to isolated pockets of people. A single audience is much easier.
2. Podium Placement – Similar to reason #1, try not to let the podium be placed an inordinate distance from the first row of tables. It tends to serve as a barrier to public speaking and interaction. The audience might almost feel as if they are watching you on television. Plus, it’s easier for them to keep picking at their food rather focusing on your comments if you’re way the heck on the other side of the room.
3. Long Wall – It might seem like a silly detail, but try to locate the podium along one of the long walls rather than a short one. Geographically, this keeps you closer to the back row of tables than if the opposite arrangement were employed. You don’t want to lose half your audience when the situation could easily be avoided.
4. Room to Move – Some speakers do their best public speaking while they’re on the move. Having the space to open up and wander around might be the difference between a real connection with the audience and half of the listeners taking a nap. One solution is to provide chairs for the head table participants to relocate to when the presentation starts. This allows the speaker to use the head table area.
5. Keep the Buffett at Bay – It’s inevitable that some of the audience will arrive late or head back for seconds after the speech has started. That’s just the way it goes when there’s food involved. For this reason, try to have the buffett line located on the opposite side of the room from the speaker. When a scuffle breaks out over the last hot wing, it won’t turn into a front row spectacle.
6. Doors Closed – Doors near or behind the speaker should be kept closed or, even better, locked. It’s an audience truism. The most boring person in the world walking through a door is more interesting than the person with the microphone gyrating for attention at the front of the room, Don’t force the speaker to compete with such distractions. His job is tough enough already.
7. Bussing Tables – If there’s anything worse than having the wait staff buss tables during the first ten minutes of your speech, we can’t think of it right now. Try to have the tables cleared at a set time or arrange a signal that brings the bussing to a halt, THEN start your presentation. No matter what your topic, you cannot compete with the fascinating machinations of banquet hall employees taking dirty dishes to the kitchen. Trust us. Don’t even try. Also, have desserts placed on the tables halfway through the meal, especially if there is a tight schedule involved.
8. Announcement – Make an announcement ten minutes prior to going on reminding everyone to take care of their food and restroom business then because the show is about to begin. At least some of the audience will pay attention to this subtle warning for them to get ready to be polite.
It goes without saying that the speaker might not have the clout to pull all these points off. In fact, he might not have any clout at all but it’s worth checking into far enough in advance that changes could be made. Hey, there are worse things to do than make friends with the catering manager and see what he can do to help insure the room is ready to help you do the best job you can.
The Speaking of Wealth Team
(Flickr / foodnut.com)