7 Tips for Delivering an Engaging Conference Presentation

Posted: August 19, 2014 in Uncategorized
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As a consultant one of the things that I enjoy most is speaking at conferences to help people gain knowledge about various topics that they can take back to their workplaces and implement.

Often, after a session, people will ask for tips about how they can become better speakers. So, I thought I’d use this blog to give some of the tips I often give them…

1 – Connect with your audience – No one likes to attend a boring monologue at a conference! There’s nothing worse than sitting in a 90 minute session and listening to someone talk to themselves.

  • Engage the audience in conversation – Find out who is in the room.  By understanding who you are talking to you will be able to cater your topic to the individuals in the room and ensure that you say the right things to the audience.  Don’t assume that you know who is present just because you are at a particular type of conference.  People from all types of roles attend various sessions.  By understanding your audience you can deliver the correct message.
  • Ask the audience questions – Get them talking and responding to what you are teaching.  Use them to help you teach.  Ask questions that will lead them to the things you want to say so that they become involved in the presentation.
  • Use reflective listening – Not everyone in the room will be able to hear responses so repeat what people say or rephrase it “properly” if they have a near miss.  Use a lot of praise for their input while you are reflecting back their responses and NEVER tell them they are wrong!  Find the one good thing they said and elaborate on that.

2 – Connect with your topic – Remember people follow passion.  If you don’t believe in what you are speaking about neither will the people listening to you.  Don’t ever talk about something that you can’t connect with.  If you aren’t connecting with the presentation you are preparing, come at it from a different angle or pick a new topic.

  • Make sure that you know the topic well enough to speak to it from the hip and to answer questions that you don’t expect to receive from the audience
  • Passion is not learned or researched, it is cultivated.  Believing in a topic goes beyond what you learned from others.  It means that you have opinions that are truly your own and can answer questions from experience.  It means you have formed opinions that you haven’t necessarily learned from someone else or can’t reference in a book.  
  • Be energetic, smile, act like you are enjoying what you are doing and the people in the room will enjoy the session also.

3 – Check your attitude – Do it because you care more about the success of others than your own success.  People are intelligent and intuitive.  They are fully able to discern your motives even when you can’t.  

  • If you want to speak at conferences just to advance your career, you aren’t ready to start quite yet.
  • If you want to speak at conferences just to get popular or famous, you aren’t ready to start quite yet.
  • If you just want to make money, or sell books, or network, look smart, or feel important, you are not ready.
  • If you want to see people learn and grow and are willing to give a part of yourself to help them become successful, you are ready.

4 – Check your slides – Slides are meant to be a reference point during your presentation but there is an art to using them properly.  They should not over power you and they should not frustrate your audience.

  • Use fewer words – Your slides should only contain very short bullet points with key words.  Too many words on a slide are monotonous and frustrating.  People feel compelled to write down every word on the slide and they stop listening.  Fewer words make it easier to cater the presentation to the audience in the room.
  • Speak to the correct content on the slide – If you don’t this will make some people extremely frustrated and they will focus on the slide waiting for you to cover the content.  They will feel cheated because you aren’t talking about what the slide promised.  
  • Don’t skip over slides during the presentation.  People feel cheated when they see you breeze past slides.  If you don’t intend to use the slide, hide it from the presentation.
  • Use fewer slides – People came to hear a presentation not to see a slide show.  Only have slides for the absolute key points you want people to walk away with.  If you can use images to send those messages, use them.  People retain images longer than words.
  • Don’t forget to give proper credit to people, books, websites, etc., where you got images or ideas. 
  • Don’t forget to create an introduction slide so people will know who you are.
  • Don’t forget to give your twitter, linked in, and other social media contact information so people know how to contact you.

5 – Watch the clock – There is nothing more frustrating than a speaker who runs over time and doesn’t finish his presentation!  

  • Plan ahead.  Conferences have a very strict schedule and will tell you exactly how much time is allowed for your presentation.  You will not be allowed to violate the time box.  If you have too much content for the time box, re-plan and remove some.  If you don’t have enough, either add content, an interactive exercise, or figure out how you will fill the space.  Be very careful if you plan to fill the space with a question and answer segment.  If you aren’t experienced with engaging the audience with this type of activity and can’t pull conversation out of them you may find yourself trying to fill a lot of dead space.
  • Know which slide you need to be on at critical points during the session and work to the clock.  If you are moving too quickly, slow down.  Engage the audience more.  If you are moving too slowly, don’t interact quite as much.  Make sure to manage the time box well so you finish the entire session on time.
  • Don’t forget to plan for introductions and for closing – Make a quick introduction and tell people who you are and why you are talking to them.  Begin with a  “What I’m going to tell you”.  Then, after you’ve told them what you came to tell them, conclude with a wrap up of “What I just told you,” to make sure that they really got the point.  

6 – Watch your words – What you say is as important as how you say it when you are presenting in a professional setting.  People pick up on tone as well as attitude.  Remember, the reason for presenting at a conference is to help people learn new skills.  Some of the things you are talking about will be completely new to them so be careful to speak in a way will not frustrate someone at an advanced level while allowing intermediate and beginner level attendees to still keep up easily.

  • Explain your acronyms – Not everyone in the room will know all of the industry terminology so when you use insider words define them within the context of the sentence the first couple of times you use them in a way that doesn’t make people feel like you are talking down to them.  Those who know the words will just be in agreement but those who don’t know them will be very thankful that you are helping them learn and keep up with what you are talking about.
  • Don’t use all of the sophisticated or overly educated words in your superior vocabulary to prove that you are the smartest person in the room.  Instead, use a common language for the education level of the average attendee in the session.  If you speak beneath the average attendee, people will be offended because you aren’t intelligent enough to teach them.  If you speak above the average attendee, people will feel like you are talking down to them and won’t receive the message.
  • It may seem elementary but using swear words in a professional presentation will detract from your survey results. Don’t do it!  Just don’t do it.  It may make you feel powerful but it makes you look unprofessional.

7 – Review your abstract – Often times there is a large gap of time between when an abstract is submitted and the actual conference.  Be careful to ensure that what you cover in the conference actually delivers on what was promised in the abstract.  Conference attendees decide which sessions they will attend by reading the abstracts provided in the program.  If you change plans and don’t deliver what they expect they don’t get the value from your session they were promised.  Regardless of how good your session may seem to you, if an attendee came to hear specific information or to learn a specific promised activity and had known you were not going to deliver what was promised they may have chosen a different session.  Attendees pay $150-$3,000 registration fees plus accommodations to be at conferences and many have to take vacation days.  It is always okay to deliver more than what was promised in the abstract but if you fail to deliver what was promised too many times your reputation in the industry will suffer damage. 

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