10 Easy Steps to a Successful Conference Presentation

1. Re-read what you submitted!

On both a national and regional level, program submissions are usually months ahead of when the conference actually takes place. Therefore, the brainstorm of ideas and details that you put into writing 2, 3, 4-months prior to the conference needs to be consistent with what you are presenting on. There is nothing worse than walking into a session whose description is so promising only to be disappointed when it does not match up.

2. Now that you re-read your original submission…

Make sure it matches the materials in your presentation! If the submission says you are going to look at the trends of MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Don’t have a presentation on Friendster, iTunes, and Google Buzz. If it says participants will leave with at least one thing to take away back to their colleges, make sure you identify what that will be.

3. How will you be evaluated?

Some conferences have switched to the “green” method of having evaluations be online at the end of the day or at the end of the conference. This practice, I’ve found, leads to a less than 50% participation rate. If you desire valuable feedback about your presentation, make your own evaluations on quarter sheets or half sheets and place them on the seats in the room. You will be pleasantly surprised with how many people want to share their thoughts, opinions, suggestions right after you finish.

4. Check the room!

Check out your room assignment the day before. This will help give you an idea of the possible audience size as well as if you need to tweak your presentation. Large room? Make sure your fonts are going to be readable and test out the microphone since you may need it. Small room? Make sure you’ll have enough room to do what you have planned if it requires getting up and moving around.

5. Handouts: To print or not to print.

I’ve always avoided handouts, I much prefer the e-mail list and sending them electronically. However, if you are using any type of media in your presentation (i.e. movie clips) do you have closed captioning on them for the hearing impaired? If not, think about printing a transcript from the scene. Conferences typically have “signers” sitting in the front but a take home of what was said will be useful to gain the full effect of the scene.

6. Know the time of your session.

No I don’t mean the actual time; I assume that you would know that. If your session is right after lunch, first thing in the morning, or at the end of the day have an opening that gets the audience moving around because they may be dealing with the grogginess of waking up early, dealing with the food coma from their lunch, or antsy from sitting in sessions all day.

7. Break it down.

The old saying goes that people’s brains only take in data for the first 20 minutes of any class, session or presentation. Well, break your session in 15-20 minute segments. If you are presenting in a pair, switch off often! Do not have one presenter talk the entire first half then the second finish it off. The differences between the voices, tone, and delivery of each presenter will keep the audience engaged.

8. Crib notes or Wing it?

This really is up to your style but I say that if you are presenting, then it is obviously a topic you are passionate about and if you can do it without looking at your index cards or a sheet of paper, all the better. Less distraction for the audience plus you won’t feel like you screwed up if you missed something on the card – it could totally affect your flow. So are you “winging it” well in a sense you are having a discussion rather than reading a lecture. Again, if you show your passion and enthusiasm the audience is going to get the message. Need your notes for a security blanket? Place them on the table or by the podium with only one or two words written neat and huge to jog your memory. The last thing you want is be squinting down at the podium with a contorted look on your face as you try to figure out what it is you wrote down.

9. Question and Answer

I’ve always enjoyed a session that allots time for question and answer at the end. If you are the presenters, be humble! You don’t need to know everything about the material, if a question catches you off guard – simply say, “That’s a really good question, I haven’t heard that before. I’ll have to look into it and if you give me your card I’ll get in touch with you afterwards.” If you try to wing it here, you could discredit your whole presentation.

10. FIN!

As you wrap up, make sure you have/do a few things:

a) Two e-mail list signup sheets, the last thing you want is a huge line of people waiting to sign up. Break it up and have one at the front of the room and one at the back.

b) Business cards, lots of business cards. Have them handy and have them in the front and back of the room.

c) Thank any tech people who may have helped with any problems – acknowledge their assistance.

d) If you get applause, clap back! If they ask why you are clapping tell them, “I applaud you for listening!”

4 thoughts on “10 Easy Steps to a Successful Conference Presentation

  1. Awesome post!

    I’d also add that, if you’re presenting to a smaller audience, ask what are some of the reasons that the audience came to the presentation. What exactly do they expect to learn from the session? Then, if possible, make sure to recognize some of those reasons throughout the presentation.

  2. Great ideas, Joe! If every presenter would follow your outline we would all have a much more fruitful conference experience.

    Just returned from a conference where my abstract had been revised. I was scrambing the evening before to add the content advertised and fortunately was able to pull info from another presentation. Whew. It definitely pays to read how you are being billed in the program.

    • Thanks for the comments Debra! Glad to hear you were able to pull things together nothing worse than having to explain that the presentation won’t follow the advertised abstract.

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