Tips on Technology For the Stage

“If you’re going to do technology, do technology well.”

Mark Sanborn CSP, CPAE
Leadership Development Speaker

In the past two weeks, I’ve seen so many technology disasters as part of meetings, I thought it prudent to spend some time on what a speaker, master of ceremonies, or meeting host absolutely has to know about technology.

  1. Know your projector. As a speaker, if you’re bringing your own projector, there really is no excuse for not knowing how to operate it. They’re all different and it’s unlikely someone at the event will be able to get you out of a pickle if you’re not able to hook it up, turn it on, adjust zoom and focus. Also make sure you know how to use the keystone control.
  2. Your computer should not be a candidate for a doorstop. The last conference I was at, the person in control of manipulating the computer was using one that must have been ten years old. It was very slow, had limited memory, and ran the risk of jeopardizing the show. At the time, we were “broadcasting” a speaker “live” from a distant location using “Skype,” which requires a huge amount of bandwidth and lots of processing power – a recipe for disaster.
  3. Know how to access your display panel on your computer.This tends to be a Windows challenge more than Macintosh. But both platforms have a display panel that lets you adjust the screen setting. You should know the difference between “mirroring” your screens and “extending” your desktop and know how to switch back and forth.Laptops these days have both an external monitor as well as the display panel you see before you as you work. Mirroring means that both panels will display the same image. If you extend your desktop, though, you can have different images on each one. This allows you to show the full screen image in PowerPoint, for example, on the external monitor (projected on the screen) as you view your notes and the upcoming slide on your computer monitor.
  4. Screen placement.There is a preferred placement for the screen. It should never be in the center of the stage. You are the most important thing on the stage and you should command the center. Now, the question is: right or left?If you imagine being in the audience, the preferred location is to the right side of the stage (or “stage left,” as it’s properly called). That’s because when we watch the stage, we perceive that things that move to the left go backwards in time. Things that move right, move forward. Therefore, in most presentations, as the presenter, you would want to motion forward to the screen (forward is also “positive”) and this means the screen should be stage left (or on the right as viewed from the audience). There are exceptions to this, of course.
  5. Using sound in your presentation requires some thought.I have had presenters come to me just ahead of their presentation in a small meeting room and want to play video from a DVD … with sound. However, they hadn’t previously mentioned this and we hadn’t booked a sound system.Sound at a meeting isn’t always a “given” and so it’s important to ask well ahead of time. You can bring your own speakers (or speaker system) but it will need to be powerful enough for the audience. In a situation in which there’s a sound system in the room, a sound cable can be attached to your computer to take sound to the sound mixer.A recent situation found the sound cable stretching all the way from the opposite side of the stage (the screen had been set up on the “wrong side” away from the sound table) to the speaker’s computer and eventually someone tripped over the cable and ended the sound portion of the event.
  6. Don’t let someone sit in front of the audience to control slides or other technical issues. Computers should always be managed from “off stage.” A person sitting in front of the stage staring back at the audience as they control the computer for the speaker is hugely distracting. All eyes should be on the speaker and therefore, other people (acting as technicians) should be off to the side.
  7. Skypeis being used more and more to bring speakers to a meeting electronically. Skype (using both video and audio) requires a very large amount of bandwidth, so I caution people not to rely on wireless technology, as it is much slower than an ethernet line attached to the computer.Here is an option if bandwidth is a problem. Video going both ways is the biggest user of bandwidth. If the speaker does not need to see the audience, have them turn off the camera feed at their end.I recommend keeping your Skype sessions to twenty minutes or less, if it’s a situation in which you’re having a formal presentation. Even though the speaker may be a professional and hugely compelling in person, that energy and charisma is difficult to transfer over a distance. Twenty minutes is about the maximum attention span of the audience in this circumstance.

    Consider plugging a microphone into the computer input so that you can have a two-way conversation with the speaker. This would allow you to “break up” the session with a question and answer segment.

  8. Enlighten your technician early. If you’re working with an audio/visual technician, make sure you show up long before your performance and have a conversation with him or her as soon as you can. Having been a convention director and a technician for many years, I can tell you that not all last minute surprises can be adequately handled. On the day of a show, there’s usually lots more to do than time and so the more organized (and early) you are, the more the technicians will “go to the wall” to make sure you have everything you need.
  9. Learn how to speak into a microphone.The tool speakers use improperly most often is the microphone. Many at the lectern lean over and speak into it. However, microphones are designed to pick up sound from a distance. Six to ten inches away is an appropriate distance for a lectern microphone. If there’s a sound engineer in the room, don’t worry, they will take care of the sound level. You just have to speak normally.Lavalier (clip-on) microphones should be pinned on the upper chest as close to the center as possible. Too many times I’ve seen speakers pin them on the left or right lapel and then when they turn in the opposite direction to speak, they’re “off-mic” an hard to hear. And make sure you wear appropriate clothing if you know you’re going to be wired with a microphone.
  10. What’s on the screen is important – always!If multiple performers are going to be using PowerPoint or Keynote, think about how you’re going to switch between them. Many projectors require the computer to be booted up before the projector recognizes it and adjusts. This can be a problem (downtime) if not prepared for ahead of time.Many projectors have two inputs for just this reason. Two computers can be hooked up to one projector to allow for a seamless transfer with the click of a remote. If this isn’t an option, think about having a break in between speakers to allow the technology to “adjust itself.”
  11. Test your remote control well before your performance and again just before you go on. Just last week, we had a speaker get on stage with a remote that didn’t work. It was a bit embarrassing, as he then had to have someone near the computer click the visual ahead on his cue. Check your batteries before each event, carry extras, and test your remote often.
  12. If you’re using a Mac, make sure you bring along the proper connector. If you’re new to a Mac, you’ll soon find out that different versions have different connectors and so you always have to have the proper one in tow.
  13. Before you go on, turn off everything but the technology you’re using. This means email, the internet (unless you’re going to use it) and any other software that might “hog” memory. At a recent performance using sound, the audience kept hearing the ding of the email program as new emails were received … throughout the speech.