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Banquet/Luncheon Tips

In years of doing presentations and teaching a public speaking course, I have learned some key tips to having a successful presentation where meals were part of the program. You may need to politely inform 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 far apart in an attempt to fill the 
empty space. Distance makes audience involvement and participation much more difficult. 

A better idea would be to space the tables as close together as you can get while still allowing enough room for comfortable waiter and waitress movement. If there is alot of empty room space it could be filled with a decorative divider of some sort. Your public speaking skills are important when 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. Remember, distance can be a great barrier to speaking and interaction with the audience. 

Consider allowing the speaker an option of speaking areas. Many speakers who have learned theirs skills in a public speaking course can do a better job if they are not confined behind a head table or lectern. 

Try to set the head table or 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). 

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 a key part to your public speaking skills.

The aspect of timing is also important to learn in your public speaking course. When your on a tight time schedule, having desserts placed on the table midway through the mea can help. 

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 can get 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. During your public speaking course you should learn how to know what else is on the program and 
when, so that you can maximize your benefit for your audience. 

When speaking in public settings where food is involved you must make a special effort to take care of all of the logistical details so your speech is well received. Learning these skills during a public speaking course is just as important as what you say.

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