This truly could be the bane of any speaker's existence. Just think: You have to WOW your audience (who might never have seen you before)…. you have to deal with the set of the room (location of chairs and tables near platform) and NOW, you have the nightmare of having to deal with food that is being served.

That said, when preparing to give a formal speech at a banquet (or any large gathering focused around a meal), experience has taught me you have make "a few adjustments."

This is why it's imperative to be proactive and discuss with the event planner the time frame of the banquet. Especially if you want a fighting chance of delivering a memorable presentation.

Doing this step will allow no surprises and give you a receptive audience whose attention is not solely based on food (even if the food is great)…and focused squarely focused on YOU!

Folks Won't Listen or Laugh if They're Busy Eating

Here's what you are up against:

1) If it is a conference many times attendees have been up a 7 AM and attending keynote presentations ALL day. Guess what? They've had information overload!

2) The banquet is usually at 6:30 at night (give or take an hour)

3) The audience, YOUR audience is tired. They want to eat, but the President or CEO has to speak, give out awards, and have a few VIP's "have" to put their cents in (I mean speeches)

4) Add it all up and the whole event last a few hours, and then YOU have to go on!

Then IT happens! Dessert has been scheduled to be served right before it is your turn to give your words of wisdom to an audience that has a full stomach!

GULP! You are then competing with the clanging of dishes along with the wait staff hustling and bustling about.

Not to mention the oohs! and aaahs! of the crème brulee and audience members turning to each other and saying, "Joan please pass me the creamer!"

The secret is to take control of your environment. It's prudent to get this all taken care of BEFORE the banquet speech and get it into the contract right from the beginning!

This will ensure no distractions when you bound onto the platform to begin your work.
You don't know how many times an organizer has said (at the event) "Hey Pete, we're going serve dinner… finish… have some speeches by some members… and then you'll go on during dessert!" I'm thinking, "No, I won't!"

Look, you have to get it through the event planner's head (and if they're good they should know this) the LAST dessert tray should be whisked away before you speak and the wait staff instructed to drift back into the woodwork like ninjas.

Again, get it into your contract so there are no misunderstandings. I've had to put up with this behavior a few times in the beginning of my career, that I swore I wouldn't go through it again.

Once it got so distracting that I jumped off the platform and helped the waiters serve the dessert. It moved the service along quicker, got LAUGHS, and then I continued my presentation.

On the flipside, if you just don’t have the clout to make such arrangements with the staff, (and the organizer is adamant and on a time constraint) at least give the audience fair warning that your talk will begin shortly.

Again, this will get them into the mindset for listening. Even if your audience is waiting for their coffee to be served. (You do want them awake, so that’s a good thing!)

The Formal Dinner Atmosphere

Make no mistake: Giving a banquet speech is a little different than speaking in front of an auditorium full of people sitting in neat rows of chairs. In that sort of situation you have more control.

They are right there in front of you with little distractions. As you get more platform experience you will discover you NEED an advantage when giving your talk to people distracted by food, social chatter, and an open bar in the back of the room (especially if it's a room full of men!)

Want a better response and more focus from your audience. Tell the event's organizer that you need the tables closer together. By doing this, YOU become more accessible.

You and your speech will become more intimate with your listeners. The audience will be more involved with you in a closer setting. And that’s what you want – to be able to look them in the eyes and make a connection.

Keeping Your Audience Close at a Banquet Speech

Of course, you don’t want people eating on top of one another, but you do want them fairly close.

You also don’t want the table or dais YOU are sitting at to be too far from THEM. The room shouldn’t appear to be a sterile lecture hall with the professor (meaning YOU) up high on a dais, far from the lowly students.

To your best to keep it close and intimate and your audience will find you more approachable and listen more intently.

Loosen up. Step in FRONT of the dais. Walk over to a table or two and let the audience follow you. Movement grabs an audience’s attention. They’ll love it! It gives the impression that the speaker is talking to each of them personally.

I've been in this scenario so many times where I've been so close I can almost touch the person's shoulder in front of me. If my platform is far away from the audiences tables, I break the fourth wall and go right up the first table. It really does get the audience's attention.

Distractions Hinders Speakers NO Matter How Good They Are

If your banquet speech is set up as a buffet service, be sure that the buffet table is miles away from where you are going to be giving your talk. Imagine if, in the middle of your speech, some guests decide to get up for second, even third, servings.

All heads turn to see who wants more food and THEY become the focus of attention, taking away from YOUR important talking points. And that just won’t do. Set it up so that your words are the focus and not the food – or the people needing second and third helpings of chicken.

I remember once where the buffet table was right up against the stage where I was giving a performance.

Thankfully, the food service was over, but the moment screamed for humor and I looked out at the audience and said, "Folks, I've been performing for over 35 years -- but this is the first time I've given a speech in front of rising steam!"

It got a HUGE laugh because it was obvious, it was in the moment, and everyone was thinking the same thing in the room.

These are moments that every speaker should want to have. It's called being in the MOMENT. It was a very self-effacing line that put the audience at ease.

In conclusion, you want to give yourself the best odds of giving a great banquet speech.
And know this; if you're competing with chatter and glasses clanking together, the impact of your words while giving a banquet speech will fall on deaf ears.

If that happens, you will get a poor evaluation and it won't be your fault. But if you don't do everything in your power to control your environment, it will be!

Author's Bio: 

Peter "The Reinvention Guy" Fogel is a humorist, speaker, and reinvention expert who delivers highly energised presentations on humor, reinvention, copywriting, and marketing to corporations and associations across America. Peter helps entrepreneurs reinvent themselves and unleash their "inner public speaker" for higher visibility and bigger profits. To sign up for his 4-in-1 Total Success Reinvention Package, visit
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