Presentation checklist: Speaking during a meal

Presentation checklist: Speaking during a meal

banquetIf giving presentations is part of your job, sooner or later someone is going to invite you to speak over the lunch hour or at a dinner event.

Hopefully, the hosts will have you speak at the end of the meal, not before; there’s nothing worse than speaking to an audience who knows you are the only thing standing between them and some chicken marsala. But there are also challenges to speaking after a meal, such as the distractions of dishes being cleared or brown bags being rustled. Is there really a best time to speak when food is involved?

Many presenters consider mealtime presentations their most worrisome speaking situations. But they needn’t be. Check this list for tips on how to make your presentation or talk as welcomed as dessert.

checkboxTime it right. If you have any say in when you speak (or are comfortable asking the hosts to adjust their schedule), speak with the hosts or wait staff to find out how the meal will be served and removed: when food will be delivered, in what order dishes will be brought out, how long is estimated for each course, etc. You often can schedule your talk while the least clinking, rustling or chewing is taking place. If your topic lends itself, also consider giving a two-part presentation.

checkboxAdjust the seating. If you’re speaking in a room with round tables, ask if places can be set on only half of the table so that no one will have to crane a neck or swivel to see you. Realize that even though people may not be looking at you as they navigate their meals, you still need to make eye contact with them.

checkboxDon’t compete with the beef. Delicious food can—and will—distract your audience from your presentation. If scheduled to speak during a meal, shorten what you have to say and avoid complex visuals and detailed information so the audience can easily share their attention with you, their table manners and the sirloin. Try not to pause too long, else you’ll encourage tableside conversations.

checkboxDo compete with the beer. Given the time of day, the size of the meal and the availability of alcoholic beverages, your audience may be a bit drowsy or distracted. Recognize that your energy level may need to be punched up a notch to hold their attention, depending on these factors.

checkboxMove. Because there are so many distractions during a meal and certain seating configurations may not be ideal, consider moving at times while you speak, positioning yourself in various places to make it easier for the audience to see you and to add visual variation and interest.

One more important tip: look for opportunities to weave stories throughout your mealtime presentation. Many people equate mealtime with story time, so use that cultural association to your advantage.

Post by John Capecci; originally published on

John CapecciJohn Capecci of Capecci Communications (Minneapolis) is a trainer and consultant who offers personal coaching, group workshops, and webinars on communication.


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