10 Tips for Conference Presentations That Rock

Here we are again at conference season. Whether you’ve just attended ALA Midwinter or are gearing up for Computers in Libraries, here’s a post full of tips that will hopefully help as you’re preparing yor talks.


#1 Share stories, not just statistics

People identify most with stories. It’s great to present statistics and evidence in your presentation, but you don’t want to hit people over the head with numbers…people’s eyes will glaze over, take it from me (I used to do just that!). Make it personal by sharing something that they can relate to while showing them a slide of impressive stats. This is great to do at the beginning of a presentation because then people will feel that they know something about you as an individual, not just an anonymous speaker.


#2 Don’t start with history

There are few things more boring than someone launching into a 15-minute discussion of how something got started. Get to the meat of it right away. People want to know how the story ends, what the benefits are, why they should be sitting through your talk. You’ll want to capture people’s attention right off the bat with a promise of what they’ll learn and how it can help them.


#3 Remember that people can read on their own

Many conference attendees believe that there is a special place in hell reserved for people who read their slides aloud to the audience. Hoepfully this isn’t true because I used to do this when I first started presenting! So, I think that this one could be tempered a bit. While you don’t want to read each of your bullet points on a slide verbatim, you’ll still want to address them and talk around them so a good practice is to add more talking points to your notes, and shorten what’s on your slides.


#4 Provide an agenda

Give people an agenda at the beginning of your talk. Let them know what you’ll be covering so they can decide whether or not they want to stay for the duration. This also lets people follow along because they are expecting certain sections and topics. An agenda gives the audience and idea of what they’ll learn and what the order and timing will be of your talk – people don’t want to sit through an “endless” presentation, let them know at the beginning that yours has structure.


#5 Practice!!!!

Really there’s no substitute for knowing your presentation backwards and forwards. I practice my presentations until I can speak to each slide without any speaker notes. After that I’ll practice my introduction until I know it by heart and can say it in my sleep. Why? Because almost everyone gets nervous when speaking in public, at least for the first few minutes, and I’m no exception. But if you can introduce yourself and your topic on auto-pilot even when nervous, you’ll have passed the biggest hurdle and the rest is easy.


#6 You don’t have to be like Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was an incredibly dynamic and charismatic speaker. He was one of the experts that people watched for benchmarking standards on presenting. He could somehow both entertain and instruct by engaging his audience throughout the duration of his presentations. But I think that it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t have to aim to be Steve Jobs in every presentation – that’s a lot of pressure! For most presentations, your foremost objective will be to deliver a message, not to entertain. It’s wonderful if you can manage to do both, and of course you don’t want to bore the audience, but remember, as an expert speaker on a topic it’s your job to inform people, to teach them something they don’t know. Most people don’t go to conferences looking for entertainment – there are better places they can go for that – they go hoping to learn something. If the content of your presentation has attendees walking out of your session excited about learning something new, then you’ve succeeded.


#7 Stick to your time limit

If you’re on a panel with 2 other professionals and you’ve each got 15 minutes of a 45-minute session, it’s imperative that you stick to your time limit. If you don’t, you’re taking away time from another speaker, as well as the audience members who have planned for a certain amount of time to be at your session. Running over time also pretty much eliminates Q & A time for the audience. Although it seems simple enough, I’ve seen this happen a hundred times, and I’ve had it happen to me. This one just comes down to practicing with a timer, which comes standard on any phone at this point, to make sure that your talk is consistent with the amount of time you’ve been allotted.


#8 Get a book on professional slide design

If you want to make a great impression with your slideshow, invest in a book on slide design (or borrow one from a library!) There are a lot of great books out there which will go beyond the simple tips like to; forgo the clip art and instead use/purchase quality or stock images, skip the animations and transitions altogether, and keep your fonts legible and easy to read for all viewers. They’ll discuss effective placement of text and images, color palettes, and design structure. The ones I have at my desk are Presentation Zen and slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations.


#9 Smile

I was raised with the quote “Smile, it makes people wonder what you’ve been up to”, and I think about this whenever I go into a presentation. If you walk in to your presentation with a smile, even if you’re nervous, people will just think that you are a generally friendly person and that you’re happy to be there. If you’re scowling because you’re concentrating on remembering your talk, it sets the tone that you’re nervous, not happy, and/or don’t want to be there. No matter how you’re feeling about your talk, remember the first impression you’re making.


#10 Share your slides

I like to let people know that I’ll be sharing my slides after the presentation, and I usually provide a link to my slideshare.net/ellyssa profile where they can access it later. I find that this tends to let many people relax and listen to what I’m saying more, rather than trying to write down url’s or ideas I’m sharing on my slides. Also, I love to go back to a talk I enjoyed at a conference to refresh my memory later on, so I always appreciate it when people share their slides.