When 3 is not better than 1

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As speakers, we are used to stand in front of a screen that shows our slides. The details may vary slightly, e.g. whether you can or can not actually stand in front of it without casting a shadow, but the general setup is usually the same.

But sometimes, you come across some rather odd setups. For example, have you ever had to present in front of 3 screens?

I've encountered this at two different conferences so far. In both cases, there was a rather wide room, which could also be separated into up to three smaller rooms. Therefore, the undivided room was equipped with not one but 3 screens, all showing the same slides. Now imagine yourself in this setup. Where do you stand? What do you do when you have to point out something on your slides?

But also consider what it is like for the audience. Let's assume the speaker would stand in front of the screen in the middle. You're sitting in the right third of the audience. Looking straight ahead, you can see a screen with the slides. Looking to your left, you can see the speaker, in front of yet another screen with the slides. But chances are that the speaker will stay to the right of that screen, blocking your view of the slide. So you have to look at "your" screen to see the slide, then back to the speaker. This is really irritating.

It gets worse when the speaker tries to point something out on the slides. Whichever way they do it, they will inevitably turn their back to one third of the audience - in addition to blocking their view. You really can't win in such a setup.

My advice to organisers of such an event would be: If at all possible, find another venue or at least find another way to set up the room, please. If you're in the audience, your best bet would be to find a seat in the middle or whichever screen the speaker is going to stand in front of.

As a speaker about the only thing you can really do is to try and spread the pain between the two outer sections of your audience; change sides from time to time, so you're only blocking the view for some of the people some of the time.

I'm not quite sure what the best way to point something out is in such a setup. Either try to switch sides or maybe look into technical solutions (laser pointers don't count - you're still going to turn your back to a part of your audience). What I mean is that you could try and point things out on your laptop, for example using the mouse pointer (assuming it's clearly visible on the slide). Keynote on the iPad has a built-in "laser pointer" option, where you simply put your finger on the iPad screen which then makes a simulated laser pointer appear on the big screen that you can move around. The downside of both of these approaches is that you'll be hiding behind the lectern or table on which your laptop (or iPad) is standing on.

Have you ever been in such a situation (as a speaker)? How did you handle it?

(Image Credit: "Andreas Schreiber at his keynote at PyConDE 2011" by Thomas Massmann, from Flickr)

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Creative Commons Licence "When 3 is not better than 1" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.