Backstage Advice for Presenters from the Crew


It has come to my attention that you will be speaking at a venue somewhere, in a ballroom/convention center type setting. I would like to share with you some insight I’ve learned from supporting speakers for the past 19 years. I have worked with speakers both good and bad – from local sales VP to Captains of Industry, Hollywood movie stars and Presidents. There are certain traits and characteristics that good speakers have and there are very predictable habits of the worst speakers. I have five recommendations to help you align yourself with the good speakers and skip the habits of the less successful ones.

1. Send the file in advance, even a rough draft

Are you going to use a digital presentation like a PowerPoint or a Keynote file? I recommend sending a draft (if not your final – that would be best) of your presentation to the event organizer. I recommend sending the source file and a PDF of it so that they can compare the fonts and looks, confirming that everything looks correct. They can head off any issues there might be with application versions, operating systems at the venue or screen aspect ratio (width and height of the screen on site).

2. Prepare

This is just common sense presentation preparation, know your content. Know it backward and forward. Know your slides and their content. Pre-rehearse your speech, read it aloud at least once before coming to the rehearsal on stage. If you have an off-line rehearsal, show up and show up on-time. So many tiny little corrections get made on each run through, it would be a shame to pass up the opportunity to polish your speech. Finalize your presentation and do your best to resist making changes until the last minute (more on that in a minute).

3. Be on time for rehearsal

I was only a minute late” is no way to start a rehearsal. If each speaker on a full day of presentations was “just running a minute late” the entire day would be off by a half hour or more by end of day. This affects the schedules of successive speakers, potentially your boss, and most importantly your running show crew’s meals/breaks. If we miss a break we will smile at you and tell you it’s no big deal and squirm, bladders full, in our chairs. We are professionals and strive for a flawless event and do our best to make presenters comfortable. Nevertheless be warned, if you disregard your allotted time for rehearsal and have tp on your shoe on show day we might not mention it. Being on time goes for show day too. The current trend is to pack as much rehearsal and stage time into the shortest window of hours as possible. When a session goes long there are numerous chain reactions. Breakouts lose running time, catering ruins food, speakers miss flights and you potentially force an entire crew to run into over-time hours.

4. Show-day is for your performance, not updates and re-writes

When you arrive last minute with a new file, edits or changes you put the entire show in jeopardy. That’s right, the whole day could go batty if you decide to change that photo of your brochure two minutes before you hit the stage. You don’t know it but, we rehearse when you’re not there. We rehearse the timing necessary to get you on stage from your seat, we rehearse the timing of your video, we rehearse… well, everything. To facilitate smooth transitions between speakers we also put your file into a larger file of the entire day’s graphics. We do everything we can to address any hiccups that might occur while you’re on stage. We design and rehearse the day’s events down to the second. We are good at it. However, last minute changes have the potential to disrupt the entire process. The start time rarely changes, so your last minute request is probably going to force a crew member to skip a step. That step could be pretty important, like backing up the file to a second computer that is always ready in case there are technical problems. It could be a change that’s important to more than one backstage department, like video or prompter and if it’s not choreographed properly because of time constraints you’re starting off on the wrong foot. This goes back to #2, prepare. Let’s be clear though.

If you’re the CFO and you need to change a number on a graphic at the last minute, consider it done. We’ve got your back. Your content if fluid, the markets change, we’re ready. It’s the speaker that obviously didn’t pay attention until the last minute that burns our britches. We are judged on every cue by the production company and your company’s meetings/events team. We will fall on our swords for you every time to cover your inconsiderate behavior but it’s you on stage, why risk the embarrassment?

5. Don’t blame the crew

As I mentioned above, the crew members are judged on every cue by the production company and your company’s meetings/events team. The saying amongst ourselves is “you’re only as good as your last show”. I might have been flawless for ten years but, that one graphic that came up too early is the only one remembered. We take this all VERY SERIOUSLY. It is our livelihood, we strive for perfection every time. When you look good, we look good, simple as that. We are always looking out for you – even when you don’t realize it. But things happen, gear fails, programs freeze. SO, if you find yourself in a situation where something isn’t right, like the mic isn’t working or the teleprompter is not scrolling, rest assured we are working diligently behind the scenes to correct it. Feverishly in fact. Since you are so well prepared (see #2) you are unfazed by any situation on stage. You can continue under any circumstance. The words might have stopped scrolling on the monitor but you know the content so well you can just push on. The mic might be out but you can say in your loudest voice, “can you all still hear me?” You should casually mention what’s happening on the outside chance we don’t know about it, but do carry on. By the time you finish covering for us we’ll have caught back up to you. Calling out a crew member from stage looks bad for everyone. It makes you look un-prepared and makes us look like we don’t care, not a comfortable scenario for anyone.

When things run smoothly because you are prepared we have the opportunity to be creative with the stage. We can suggest additional creative touches when we have the time to do so. It’s what we do. Starting off correcting poor speaker etiquette eats into time we could spend making you look good. We want you to look good. Following these steps puts us all on a path toward a successful event.

For more information or to find out how pptXTREME can help you be prepared visit our website today!


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