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The elevator test for presenters

A good way to approach a presentation is to spend some time thinking about the key messages you want your audience to remember. In other words, if I bumped into a participant outside of the venue and asked them what your talk was about…what would they tell me? If you start planning your presentation by defining your key messages, it’s easy to work backwards and structure your entire presentation to support these.

This is a version of the elevator test or elevator pitch, which challenges a person to provide a short and compelling summary of an idea or proposition to another person in the time it would take to complete a short elevator trip, approximately 30 seconds.

Often a great deal of work and craftsmanship goes into making something look or sound simple. It’s easy to waffle on, but takes focus to distil and refine your content into something persuasive and memorable. It reminds me of a wonderful quote from Mark Twain: ‘I would have written you a shorter letter if I had more time’.


Seating for Success

One of the most influential features of a presentation or a training session is the way the seating is arranged in the room…yet it’s remarkable how many people leave the issue of seating arrangements to chance.  A well-arranged room creates the foundation for training and can remove distractions and powerfully influence the effectiveness of the training.

I’m a little pedantic about preparing a room in advance. I like my participants to feel a sense of anticipation when they enter the room and it also helps me to feel calm and prepared. I usually use one of three seating options: Café Style, U-Shape or Lecture.

1) Café Style Seating


A café style seating arrangement is where participants are seated around small tables with the trainer located at the front of the room. It’s great for small group work that requires a lot of interaction and discussion.

In a nutshell

  • A café style seating arrangement is more informal and generates discussion.
  • Participants can work in small groups and then return to the whole group.
  • The trainer moves between groups during lectures and activities.
  • The trainer can circulate easily and focus on smaller groups as well as the group as a whole.
  • There may be visibility issues for some people in the room.
  • This style of seating can encourage side conversations and perhaps lack of attention.

2) U-shape Seating


As the name suggest, the U-shape seating arrangement features a number or rectangular tables set up in the shape of a ‘U’ with participants seated around the outside. This set up is ideal for small to medium groups and puts the trainer at the front of the room (in the middle of the U) or at one end of the U.

In a nutshell

  • The U-shape seating arrangement encourages whole group participation.
  • It is good seating for trainer/participant contact.
  • There is good visibility for participants, although participants may feel a little exposed.
  • Seating can take up quite a bit of space for the number of people involved.

3) Lecture Style Seating


The lecture style seating arrangement is best used for formal presentations to larger groups when you want to maximise the space in a room. Chairs are placed in rows and face the front. There are no tables.

In a nutshell

  • Great set up for lectures that are being presented to large groups.
  • Good for audio-visual displays.
  • Reduces interaction as communication is mostly one way.
  • The trainer may have difficulty viewing the participants in the back rows.
  • There might be visibility / sound issues in the back rows.
  • Note-taking can be difficult for participants.
  • People in the back rows will be less likely to participate than those in the front.

 So how do you select a suitable seating arrangement?

Consider the following factors:

  • The size of the group and the size of the room.
  • The type of content ie does it involve group work or audience participation?
  • Are there participants with special needs (mobility, seeing, hearing)?
  • The furniture that is available to you.
  • Any audio-visual requirements and other teaching aids such as posters, flipcharts etc.

But above all, the most important factor is not to leave seating to chance!

How Many Slides?

How Many Slides

Every day I assist people with their presentations and I’m often asked how many slides they should have. The answer to this question is simple….as many as it takes.  It might be necessary to linger on a slide for a while or rapidly progress your slides to keep up with your verbal content. Given that there should only be one key message per slide, you should use as many slides as necessary to visually support your speech.

Slides should be illustrating or reinforcing the point that you are making, and should therefore be relevant to what you are saying. Imagine a newsreader telling an audience about bush fires. The newsreader would be supported by an image on the screen behind their shoulder relating to the fires. If the next story relates to stock market prices, it would be confusing for the audience to be viewing an image of bush fires while they’re talking about shares. The same principle applies to your presentations. 

It comes back to the very first principle of presentation design…content comes before slides. Once you have your key messages identified and incorporated into a well-crafted speech, you are then in a position to think about what slides should reinforce your message.

Breaking the Ice

IceBreakersIce breakers are an essential tool in any trainer’s toolkit. They’re short, structured activities that are used to ‘break the ice’ in meetings or facilitation groups. Well-designed ice breakers are great for:

• Reducing tension
• Energising and motivating a group
• Helping people become more engaged in the proceedings
• Getting to know the other participants
• Creating a relaxed learning environment
• Generating conversations
• Creating a climate of participation

By the same token a badly designed ice breaker can go down like a lead balloon.

So what makes an ice breaker work? The activity must be thoughtfully selected, appropriate for the group, tailored to the audience and the duration of the ice breaker should be proportionate to the length of the session.

Over the coming weeks, I will be featuring some unique ice breakers that have worked well for me in different settings. Do you have any tried and tested ice breakers to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Wild Slides

I’m pleased to launch this blog by sharing my ideas on great slide design on Slideshare. This is the first time I’ve displayed my work publicly and I’d love you to check it out.

In addition to tips on slide design, my blog will feature posts on making great speeches, training materials, icebreakers, handouts and lots more. If you subscribe, you won’t miss a post.

Thanks for visiting and happy viewing.