In years of performing the art of public speaking, I have done many
public speaking meetings in settings where meals were part of the
program. You may want to politely remind the program coordinator to
consider some of the following points:
(Many of these tips work whether food is being served or not)
Avoid spacing round tables widely apart in an attempt to fill the
available space. Distance makes audience involvement and participation
much more difficult.
A better idea would be to space the tables as close together as
practicable (allowing enough room for comfortable waiter and waitress
movement). Empty room space could be filled with a decorative divider
of some sort. The art of public speaking involves helping people help
you do the best for their group.
Avoid a great distance between the head table /dais / speaker area and
the first row of tables. Again, distance is a great barrier to
speaking and interaction.
Try to set the head table / speaker area on the long side of the room.
This means that the back row participants will be closer to the speaker
than if you set the head table / speaker area on the short side of the
room (participants will feel they are really far from the action).
Consider allowing the speaker an option of speaking areas. Many
speakers who are tops in the art of public speaking can do a better job
if they are not confined behind a head table and/or lectern.
Most public audiences like being closer to the speaker too. To
accomplish this, place extra chairs near the front of the room to be
used by the head table participants after dinner (of course, this would
depend on your overall program). You would not want them seated behind
the speaker during the program. Set the head table back from the front
of the podium. The speaker can perform in front of the head table.
Set buffet tables far to the side or on the opposite end from the
speaker area. If someone goes back for late seconds or arrives late,
he or she will not be disruptive.
Discourage use of doors anywhere near the head table/speaker area.
All these placement factors are part of the art of public speaking.
Also part of the art of public speaking is the aspect of timing, When
on a tight time schedule, have desserts placed on the table midway
through the meal.
Arrange with banquet staff to cease all bussing of tables on a
pre-arranged signal. Many functions have less than interesting
openings because service personnel are running around for the first 10
minutes of a talk. This gets everything off to a bad start.
Ten minutes before the program is to start, it is very helpful to
announce something like the following: "The program will start in ten
minutes. Please get your drink refills, (go to the little boys and
little girls room), grab another piece of cake and then take your seats
and get ready for a great program!"
When planning lighthearted / humorous speaking programs, avoid heavy
subjects before the speaker, i.e., don't show tearjerker slides of
starving children (actually happened to a speaker friend of mine), in
an effort to raise funds.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for raising funds for good causes, but if
you do this just before a humorous public speaking event or comedy
show, you may have wasted your money on the talent and actually made it
inappropriate for them to do the job for which they were hired. The art
of public speaking involves knowing what else is on the program and
when, so that you can maximize your benefit for your audience.
When speaking in public at settings where food is involved you must
make a special effort to take care of logistical details so your speech
is well received. Again, as a professional speaker this all part of
your art of public speaking.
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