Speak Easy: How presentation management sets your conference up for success


By Andrew Tyne

Your presentation starts in 10 minutes, while frantically trying to find the room where you’ll be presenting you look down at your hand and see the USB key that contains your talk. You whisper a quiet prayer to the conference gods that whatever laptop is waiting for you in the room has the correct version of QuickTime installed and that you’ve embedded those videos properly.

When we design an event experience, we very often think of ways that we can improve the experiences of our delegates and exhibitors, but sometimes the speakers and presenters who are at the heart of our programming get overlooked and far too often a scenario similar to the one above plays out on the conference floor. One of the most effective ways we can ensure that all of our presenters have a great experience is to make it easy to deliver their presentations. Enter presentation management, the tool that enables your presenters to submit their presentations early and ensures that they walk into their room confident that their talk will be there, available and working like they need it to.

So what is presentation management?

Say you have five breakout rooms, a plenary and a speaker ready room with a computer network that connects all of those spaces. Presentations are loaded in the speaker ready room, tested, rehearsed and then pushed over the network to the appropriate room. Now this network is a separate closed system; it’s not the same network that your attendees will use to get online during the conference. Very often, the network can be configured in such a way that a connected computer can access the internet, but not always. Assuming that all of the computers in this scenario are identical (this is always something that savvy planners should make sure of), any presentation that gets tested in the speaker ready room will behave exactly the same way when the presentation is given for real. This gives speakers confidence that everything will work the way it should and lets them concentrate on delivering their content.

The first step in implementing a presentation management system is bringing in your A/V supplier as well as your venue’s event manager. One of the reasons that presentation management can seem daunting is that it requires input and cooperation from both teams. At our venue, the A/V company will provide the laptops and the technicians, and our in-house ICT team will build the network that everything connects to. Depending on the size and scope of the network, significant lead time may be required, so it’s always best to start these conversations early in the planning process. As part of these initial discussions, your supplier can walk you through further options when setting up your network. These can range from simple computer to computer networks that simply pass files along from one terminal to another all the way up to custom programmed interfaces with options for remote editing and branding, and the capability to allow presentations to be downloaded by attendees after the conference.

All these options and details can make presentation management seem overly complicated, as event professionals we operate in an already complex world and the inclination can be to dismiss presentation management out of hand. The thing to keep in mind though is that while there are a lot of moving parts involved, the process on the planner’s end is as simple as letting your suppliers know what your needs and goals are and then leaving the details to them. So long as the venue and your supplier are in the loop and communicating with each other, you don’t need to be a tech whiz to make presentation management work for you.

Another task—but a necessary one

We’ve talked about the in’s and out’s, but it’s also important to understand why you’d want to pile one more thing on your already full conference plate. As was mentioned above, a properly set up presentation management system gives speakers piece of mind, which in turn allows them to concentrate on delivering. More importantly, presentation management endows the entire conference with a sense of organization and calm. Take the number of breakout rooms your conference has, multiply that by the number of sessions in each room and finally multiply that by the number of speakers in each session. Now take all those people, and realize that without a presentation management, they’re all at various times going to be depending on your breakout rooms desperately trying to upload and test their presentations, often several at a time and under the prying eyes of attendees in the sessions. Often times, conference volunteers will be assigned to breakout rooms to assist, however the scene is often still chaotic and difficult to manage, and volunteers often don’t have the technical knowledge to assist in troubleshooting the technical issues. Contrast that with the steady, private atmosphere of a speaker ready room and the advantages are clear.

If you decide to integrate presentation management into your next conference, here’s a few things to keep in mind when planning things out with your supplier partners.

Fringe benefits

If you have a large conference that takes up a large percentage of space in a venue, then you’re a perfect fit to benefit from presentation management. You’re also set up to fall victim to one of the most common oversights: your speaker ready room. Far too often, the space for the speaker ready room is an afterthought when it comes to planning, but an appropriate space is essential. The room should be quiet, it should be large enough to accommodate several six-foot tables and enough space for speakers to enter and line up to drop off their presentations. Speakers often congregate in this space, so it can often double as a speakers’ lounge where they can come in, drop off and test their presentations, connect with colleagues and grab coffee — what more could any speaker ask for! The room should also be close enough to your registration area that presenters can easily find it since this room is likely to be one of their first stops. The last critically important space consideration is that you get access to it early. The speaker ready room is where the heart of your presentation management network is going to be built, so you’ll want to make sure that your supplier has sufficient time to get everything set and ready.

One of the biggest advantages that a presentation management system gives you is the ability to collect your presenters’ files in advance. This is typically done by way of an advance submission website that the supplier you’re working with can build for you. This is yet another reason for putting presentation management early in your planning timeline. Every advanced submission is one less thing to be dealt with on site.

The pace that event technology is changing is not going to stop any time soon. And as technology advances and presenters have increased access to new tools their presentations will become more complex. It’s therefore inevitable that presentation management will eventually become a standard tool in the event planner’s toolkit. Adopting the technology now and staying abreast of new technologies like this will ensure that you stay agile and relevant as an event professional.


About the Author

Andrew is an event planner, musician, recovering A/V professional and speaker who loves to get people excited about technology, productivity and living a mindful focused life. He graduated from St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia with a Bachelor of Arts in Music. Andrew also attended the Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology where he received a diploma with Honours. He received his CMP designation in 2014 and works as an Event Manager with The Halifax Convention Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Andrew is also a past President of the Atlantic Canada Chapter of Meeting Professionals International.

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