Speaker vs. Equipment vs. Speaker vs. Host

By: Ann Harman

Once upon a time – and not all that long ago – the speaker’s life was easy. You selected your slides that covered the topic, popped them (correct way up) into a carousel and appeared at the meeting with presentation ready to show. It did not matter if you drove or flew to the meeting. In those days almost everyone owned a slide projector. After all, how else to bore friends and neighbors with photos of your latest vacation? So someone in the association had brought a slide projector and screen and your presentation was ready to show. The worst that could happen was if the bulb burned out.

Fast forward through modern technology. Presentations are now done on the computer, on a Power Point (PPT). So off you go to a meeting with your presentation on a tiny thing called a flash drive (aka thumb drive, USB stick, jump drive, memory stick). Now all you need is: a laptop, a projector, assorted cables so that laptop speaks to projector, an extension cord and a few more items. Screens went the way of the slide projectors so if the venue is not a school or college you need a wall to show your nice PPT on. You hope for a wall that isn’t painted green, or dull brownish, or bright yellow. But you are stuck with what the room has.

You have been told that the room has a projector so all you need to bring is your laptop. That seems to be easy. Except after getting everything all set up your laptop does not communicate with the projector. Or your flash drive does not communicate with anything. Does anyone in the audience have a laptop? No. They just came to see your presentation and eat refreshments.

If you are fortunate and are speaking in a school or college that has computer attached to projector you will be given a handheld object with an assortment of buttons – forward, reverse, stop, start, pointer. However these do not seem to be consistent in their designs. You’ll get this one figured out after six or seven slides. Sometimes it seems more effective to abandon it.

If you are driving to the meeting place you can go self-contained. Look for a cheap suitcase with many pockets. This will be your traveling presentation kit so nothing will go wrong. You’ll need to buy some things that should stay in the suitcase permanently. First a long extension cord. Or two. You will have to buy your own projector. Fortunately projector prices are not as frightening as they once were and the less expensive models are actually quite good. Now you have all the cables that enable your laptop and projector to communicate. Fix a foam-padded slot for your laptop. Put a pointer in even if you have to buy another one to play with your cats. Zip the suitcase up and off you go. All you need is a socket in the room.

Oh! You are flying to the venue? Now what. The host said they had laptop, projector and everything needed for your presentation. Well, first put your PP on two different formats, one a pptx and one on ppt. Those should take care of almost any laptop/projector combination. You can take your laptop but – (see problem above). In the back of your brain is that little niggling feeling – what if. One way out, if there is enough time between the request to speak and the actual meeting, is to mail a flash drive with just your presentation PPT on it to the host and ask to see if it works. That may not be possible in some cases. Well, you tried to conquer the vagaries of modern equipment. If they won, then just give what you remember of your presentation. Just plain, spoken words do still work. A print out of your slides goes a long way in helping.

Now we turn to the association that invited you. The officers have some important responsibilities. Was the invitation issued six months ago? If you are the Program Chair a gentle reminder or definite communication several weeks before the meeting would be important. Human beings forget. Computers get fried and lose information. Keep in touch with your speaker.

The Program Chair and other club officers need to cooperate. The Treasurer knows how much the club can spend. Small clubs tend to have a small treasury. The officers should know what equipment is available for a PPT. Is a sound system necessary? In a large room it can be very tiring to keep shouting for 45 minutes to an hour. What facilities does the venue have? Are tables available for a display or demonstration? Although these seem like small details they are necessary for a happy speaker. Remember that if the speaker arrives and finds endless problems with planning, that club will never see that speaker again. And word gets around.

The person who first contacts the speaker should be able to discuss a topic for the presentation. Members of the club may have expressed a desire for information on a particular subject. Perhaps that subject is better presented combined with a workshop or open-hive demonstration. Small clubs usually have evening speakers but field days are sometimes held. To have an effective presentation the prospective speaker should be informed about the type of meeting and what facilities are available.

Let’s take a look at getting the speaker to and from the meeting. We’ll start with a suitable driving distance to a local meeting. Did you give the speaker enough information? The speaker can certainly Google something like MapQuest® to get an idea of distance and time but an address of the destination is needed. Yes, today we have GPS systems that tell drivers how far, what road, turn right or left. But these two sources of information have their limits. Is one stretch of road completely clogged during rush hour? Perhaps there is a better way to avoid the stop-go of traffic. Road construction never seems to stop. Are there detours? You really do want your speaker to arrive in plenty of time – and so does the speaker.

Is there anything peculiar about the venue? Is the entrance obvious? If it is ‘around the back after you pass the parked school buses’ tell the speaker. If there are restricted parking areas, let the speaker know where to park. Colleges are notorious for having no-parking areas and ‘guest’ areas that may not have appropriate signs.

The speaker is flying in. Will someone be meeting the speaker? The time to make such arrangements is well before the meeting with a reminder close to the date. And don’t forget – the speaker will be flying back home so another ride to the airport is needed. If a shuttle service is available let the speaker know. Some small airports do not have shuttles.

The speaker has a long drive – four or five hours. If the host club really wants a happy speaker the offer of a close motel for the night is definitely necessary. What about meals? Inviting the speaker to dinner with a few members of the club before the meeting is an excellent idea. The speaker can find out about the club, how experienced the members are, how many newbees usually attend – all sorts of information to make the presentation successful.

Handouts share responsibilities – speaker and host. How many people usually attend? Speakers should plan on adding 10 or more to the number given. ‘Can you leave a few for those who could not attend?’ That is a common request from a club. Who is going to distribute the handouts – the speaker? A club member? Or left on a table? When will handouts be given? If well before the presentation the members will read them before the speaker starts. If at the end of the meeting the members will have something to take home as a useful reminder of the topic presented. If immediately before the speaker begins the audience will be reading them and rattling papers while the speaker is talking (not a good idea).

Some clubs always have a business part of any meeting. The topics that need to be discussed are important to the activities of the club. However the officers need to plan the entire meeting beforehand. Does the speaker have a long drive home afterwards? If so, put the speaker on first to be able to leave immediately after the talk and get home at a sensible hour. Then the business part can take as long as necessary. The speaker does not need to sit through the reading of minutes, treasurer’s reports, signing people up for swarm lists or helping at the fair, old business, new business, and definitely not arguments about some problem the club is having.

Yes, compensation (money!) needs to be discussed. The Program Chair and the Treasurer need to have decided what the club’s treasury can afford before contacting the speaker. Can the club afford airfare, motel, meals, mileage plus a ‘speaker’s fee?’ That speaker’s fee may be an amount set by the speaker or may be what the club can afford to pay. The club should have arrived at some figures before first contacting the speaker. Otherwise the speaker is in a rather awkward position. If, as a speaker, you have a set fee you need to state that amount immediately when asked to speak. Otherwise the club is in the awkward position. If, as a speaker, you are flexible or negotiable, tell the club.

A club can do a few things – little things – that make speakers happy. Providing a glass or bottle of water at the podium is very helpful. If refreshments are served after the presentation then make certain the speaker is not swamped with people asking questions. The speaker would really like to have a piece of someone’s homemade honey cake and something to drink. But the speaker is stuck at the podium with six people wanting answers. The speaker is trying to be polite so do not abandon the speaker.
Cranky computers, problematic projectors, disastrous directions, mismanaged meetings, all facing the steadfast speakers. May they always say ‘yes, I’ll be happy to speak.’

Ann Harman organizes speakers and meetings and keeps her bees from her home in Flint Hill, Virginia.