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!”

Re: developing respect for student affairs #sachat

Building off the arguments and points made within the blog belonging to Jeff Lail found here:http://jefflail.com/2010/02/25/developing-respect-for-student-affairs-sachat/ I wanted to add my own two-cents worth to the conversation.

First off, I’ll join the train of thought that yes SA (student affairs) does hardly enough assessment and are in fact behind the times in practice at most institutions. Relying on CIRP or NSSE just isn’t going to be enough anymore, nor should it ever have been. So I agree when Jeff says that most student affairs offices don’t take this seriously enough or aren’t doing it correctly.

Secondly, the argument/topic of “administration” knowing what we do and how we do it versus “us” knowing what “they” do and how “they” do it. The show Jeff refers to is “The Undercover Boss” which is a great show and shows some important lessons that I believe would be transferable to higher education.

For instance, how many institutions in an effort to raise money for a fundraiser will auction off “Be President/Dean/SSAO for Day”? The practice I’ve seen with this is that the student and SSAO trade places, the SSAO goes to classes and the student goes to meetings. What would happen if a new professional in student activities/residence life/counseling/etc, took the role of VP of SA or VP of FIN or Provost for a day and vice versa? I think the results would be astounding and rewarding.

Jeff sort of dismisses this as he states, “Here’s a realization that I think we all need: THEY DON’T NEED TO KNOW WHAT WE DO IN DETAIL. It’s not their job to know the details of our job, it’s out job to know the details of their job.” I disagree, partially. While I understand that they shouldn’t have to know the details BUT, if you perhaps watched the first episode of “The Undercover Boss” you would see the benefit in having access and understanding of that knowledge rather than dismissing it as “that’s not my job to know that.”

In the episode where Waste Management was highlighted, the COO (I think it was the COO) had implemented procedures that in his mind led to a more effective and efficient process for picking up the garbage. Although, much to his surprise, when he was the one having to go out and practice his procedures – he realized how inefficient it really was, in practice.
My argument/idea then is that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to have the SSAOs who maybe did not go the traditional route of “climbing the ladder” and experiencing a little bit of each position in student affairs.

The #sachat contributors brought up that the typical answer is to “do more with less”…right that is for the most part able to be accomplished but in many instances, it takes away from the student experience. Perhaps the SSAO who thinks it is a good idea to cut 10% of the programming budget or to have programs from 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. every Thursday, Friday, Saturday night – should spend a week or a weekend in the shoes of the people who make that happen.

Have them avoid their friends and family and have to give up any resemblance of a social life because from their (the SSAO) point of view, the institution needs more programming during these times. I think they might want to rethink what they are trying to enforce without consulting those who are on the “front lines” or involved in the “fight against apathy.”

Next, Jeff speaks of the divide between faculty and student affairs administrators and the different roles, goals, involvement each have developed over the past decades. However, from my understanding of higher education, wasn’t it the faculty members that were doing our roles when this whole idea of institutionalized education was born?
Wasn’t it the Deans and the Faculty living in the dormitories, creating living and learning environments, mentoring students outside of the classroom? So if you followed the “bloodlines” of Faculty and SA you will realize that we came from the same family tree. Unfortunately, somewhere along the times, that connection separated and is now limited to awkward family reunions or holidays (i.e. limited collaborations involved Faculty in events and SA professionals in lesson plans).

Not all campuses have a large divide, in fact I am sure that there are many campuses that can serve as perfect models of student affairs and academic affairs playing nice together, complementing each other, and contributing to each other’s goals. I’ve part a part of glimpses of this happening but often they are one semester “task forces” with an expiration date attached.

Finally, I want to take a shot at the question Jeff poses at the end of his blog.

“My question is how can student affairs bring money and prestige to the campus through our work. I think the answer will be different for each office so I’ll not make more specific suggestions.”

Now I agree, the answer will be different for each office but shouldn’t they be answering the same question with a similar vision and same goal.

I am reminded about an exercise that I can’t remember from which book it was but it is the “Why?” tactic.

Here is an example:

What do you do?

I program events every weekend.

Why?

So students will have an outlet and something to do aside from being in their residence halls.

Why?

Because that’s my job. I am here to help students explore their opinions and broaden their experiences.

Why?

Because the goal of the institution is to…serve the students that make the institution, an institution, and ensure that they leave here wiser, more experienced, and well-rounded as individuals regardless of their choice of discipline.

Should that not be the goal of every student affairs office, that sure they can meet their individual goals of X amount of programs, of X amount of student engagement, of X amount of money saved but in the end, is it not about the end product of taking a “raw” student and transforming them into a “semi-polished” student ready to seek the world with a lifelong learning desire?

Consider this a letter to the editor. Jeff came out of semi-retirement of blog writing and his entry inspired me to do that same.

Rock on and thanks for reading.