Wherever it is that you’re going to be delivering a speech, be it down the hall or in another city, get to the venue well before your announced starting time. You should be in the room at least a half hour before the time you’re scheduled to speak.
If there are speakers scheduled before you, do your best to arrive before the scheduled starting time of the event. It’s always to your advantage and never to your disadvantage to hear what the speakers preceding you have to say. You may pick up some logical segues to use, identify any conflicts that you might have to explain away, and avoid embarrassing duplications.
When you enter the room look for potential logistical problems and have them fixed before it’s time for you to begin, such as the following.
- The height and size of the lectern. It should be wide enough to accommodate two sheets of paper side by side, high enough that you can easily see your notes, and low enough for you to comfortably see over and be seen by the audience.
- Whether microphones are working (there are few things as amateurish as a speaker tapping a microphone upon arriving at the lectern and asking if it’s working, especially if everyone heard perfectly well the person who introduced you).
- The availability of drinking water. (To minimize spills, never have your glass more than half full.)
- Whether there are background noises that need to be eliminated.
- Whether there are any lights that will distract you.
Ask your host whether the make-up of your audience is pretty much the same as was expected when you discussed the event before preparing your speech. If the make-up of the audience is slightly different than earlier anticipated, there shouldn’t be any problems. But if it’s dramatically different, for example much older or younger than anticipated, you may have to do some last minute editing of your content.
You should determine how many people are expected, and ask the organizers to get rid of unneeded chairs in the back rows. People tend to sit at the back of a room and empty chairs up front make a bad impression.
Don’t stand off in a corner with the host or by yourself. Circulate and introduce yourself to some members of the audience. Try to find out some things about them. Learn the names of a few to use, if appropriate and in context, when delivering your speech. If you’re going to mention a name or two be sure to get the pronunciation right. Jot down the names on your script or on a separate card and unless it’s a one-syllable name, spell it out phonetically.
Once the event begins, listen carefully to everything that’s said before you speak. What goes on before you arrive at the lectern can often provide sources of humor, spontaneity and immediacy. The audience will also be impressed by the fact that you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on around you. They will interpret this as a strong indication that you’re a confident, well-prepared person who’s probably worth listening to. Listening carefully can also keep you out of trouble; for example if the event is being sponsored by IBM you better not mention Apple.
Watch particularly for incompetent organizers, chairpersons and introducers. Even if you provided the information to them, they’ll often get your qualifications wrong or may invent information to make you sound more important than you really are; and exaggeration can be worse than understatement.
Finally, by getting to the venue early you’re sending a message that the event is important to you and you have respect for the sponsoring organization. Rushing in at the last second sends the opposite message, which will always be to the detriment of your reputation.