The rectangle behind you

Questions to ask conference organizers

From Wikipedia’s definition of a rider:

Van Halen requested in the technical rider that a bowl of M&Ms be provided in their dressing room with the brown ones removed. Failure to do so would not only mean that the band would not perform, but the venue would still have to pay the full fee. The objective of this wasn’t due to any excesses on the part of the band, but was a method to determine how much attention to detail the crew at a local venue paid to the requests specified in the rider. Should the bowl be absent, or if brown M&Ms were present, it would give band members reason to suspect other, legitimate, technical and safety issues were also being performed poorly or were outright overlooked.

I don’t ask for M&Ms of any sort, but I have a set of questions I usually ask conference organizers before I give a talk. You too should ask some — and, indeed, as many as you want to feel comfortable. You should also feel free to withdraw if the answers are evasive, delayed, or unprofessional. I believe the level of professionalism of the organizers should match yours; if you put in a lot of effort into preparing your talks, it’s reasonable to expect the organizers to do so as well.


Projector

What is the resolution of the projector? (Ideally, not the theoretical resolution, but the one your computer can address.) It’s sometimes easier to ask about the projector brand and model, which you can then research yourself.

Room setup

What is the setup of the room? Are there any obstacles that might prevent some people from seeing parts of the slide? How many projectors/screens are there? (You can ask for the photos of the room, or even look them up yourself if you know the venue.)

Where will the computer be? Is there a podium? Will you have free access to it? (If you need it.)

Will there be a confidence monitor? (A separate screen in front of you to see the output people see on the projected image behind you — so you don’t have to turn back to the audience to see what’s on the slide.)

What’s the situation with the presenter notes if you need any? Can you have notes on your screen? Will that work with the confidence monitor?

Will it be possible to walk on the stage? (Sometimes there are restrictions because of lighting or filming requirements, etc.)

Microphone

What’s the microphone situation? Will there be a lavalier/headset, a handheld mike, or a microphone at the podium? (I usually request a lavalier/headset since my slides require me interacting with them with both hands.)

Connectivity

If my talk has audio, will I be able to play it through the sound system in the room? What’s the sound system?

Will there be internet access for the computer? A separate wi-fi network for presenters? How reliable? Is there perhaps a separate wired Ethernet access? (Push on that if your talk requires Internet… which it shouldn’t, as a rule of a thumb.)

If I don’t have a presentation remote, will there be a remote provided? (I have my own, and so should you. Having your own remote makes you a badass.)

Talk itself

How much time do I have for the talk?

Will there be Q&A after the talk? Does it cut it into my alloted time? What’s the format?

Will the talk be filmed and released later?

Is it possible to interact with the audience? (If you need to.) Will there be a microphone required to pass to people if you want to hear them talk?

Preparations

When can I come and test my presentation? (Ideally, the day before so you have time to make fixes. Also acceptable: the same morning. Just 10–20 minutes before won’t give you much time to make changes.)

Note: the above is not an “if” question. You should be able to test your presentation in situ before giving it.

The rectangle behind you, a series of articles about interactive presentations.

By Marcin Wichary (@mwichary)