Conferences are like the Broadway show of speaking opportunities: tons of people, expensive tickets, groupies following their favorites, tweets galore. Of course, as with any high-expectation "performance", there can be a lot of pressure to succeed.
How can you make the most of your own, personal "Hamilton"? Here are 10 conference presentation tips to take with you as you prepare for your next engagement:
1. Warm-up with your introduction and conclusion: A great way to get focused, get your articulators working, and your body engaged? Run through your introduction and your conclusion, out loud and on your feet, before you go on. First and last impressions are extremely important. While we don't recommend memorizing things (there's a big difference between familiarity and memorization, but that's a post for another day...), you want to be as comfortable as possible with these two major parts of your presentation. This way, no matter what happens in between, you can open and close strong.
2. If you can, get in your space beforehand: This simple act of visiting the space in which you'll present will give you tons of information, and remove more of those lingering "intangibles". You can learn what your stage is like, how many people the room can hold, what your presentation volume may need to be, and more. Extra points if you can swing an actual rehearsal in the space.
Make it happen: Speak to a meeting planner or conference organizer and see if they can help you out. They'll have the answers about schedules and availability.
3. Know what you need: And know down to the smallest detail. Yes, a lot of things may be taken care of for you. (For example, you may just hand over your visuals to a crew member on-site.) However, you need to be prepared with everything else. Perhaps you have a clicker that you prefer to use. Maybe you want the lights in the space to be brought up a little higher than the typical presentation. Or, perhaps you like to have a bottle of water ready during a long session. Know your needs.
Make it happen: Create a "go list" for yourself, with all of your technical needs and how they will be handled.
4. Plan warm-up/travel time: A few years ago, I was at a conference in a HUGE convention center in Boston. Although I was an attendee, not a speaker, I wanted to show up to my sessions with plenty of time, feeling refreshed and relaxed, so as not to disrupt the speaker. Unfortunately, while I thought I understood the scope and size of the convention center, I'd sorely underestimated it. By a lot.
That said, I did make it to my sessions — but I had to hustle. I didn't feel relaxed or refreshed. And I was only in the audience! Point being, if you're a speaker, plan your in-center travel to your session, and allow plenty of time to arrive. Really. It may sound simplistic, but you want to be sure to have enough time to warm-up, feel centered, and greet some attendees, if possible.
Make it happen: Use those maps, schedules, online or in-app resources, and event crew on-site to really get a feel for your location. Don't be afraid to ask, "How far away is this particular room?"
5. Be prepared to be mic'ed — or not: Some people think they can let their microphone do all the work, but here's a secret: microphones only amplify. With or without a mic, your voice needs to be present. If you're wired in a space, remember that it's only there to help.
What if you're NOT given a microphone? You need to be able to vocally fill that space, so that the person in the very back of the room can hear you. If they can't hear you, they can't take the action you want. Practice, and get comfortable with, your presentation volume.
Make it happen: Try this exercise: Using a few lines from your presentation, hold your palm in front of you, and use enough volume to fill the space between your mouth and your hand. Extend your arm, and try it again. Drop your arm down, and aim your sound for a spot 15ft. away. Try 20ft. Try 50ft. Each time, you'll need to increase your volume to make your voice fill the space.
6. Don't be afraid to rearrange the furniture: As Kerri Garbis is fond of saying, "Your stage is your stage." For the 45 minutes of your presentation, that room belongs to you. If there are pieces of "furniture" on stage (ie, a table, a podium, or a lectern), you can turn or adjust them in such a way that they don't block you from your audience. You can even request to have them removed all together.
Make it happen: You may not have the option to rearrange things in every conference space. But it certainly doesn't hurt to ask! Many teams will send someone in to set your stage as you would like it to be.
7. Be inspired by your surroundings: We advocate personalizing the facts: including relevant personal stories in your presentation. What if you feel your story well running dry? Be inspired by your surroundings. The story of how you got to the conference, a positive interaction you had on the show floor, or what you learned in a session are great story starters. You'll build rapport with your listeners, because you're all sharing the same experience.
Make it happen: If you're using an on-site story, just be sure to rehearse it well beforehand. That will ensure that the story is concise, to the point, and relevant to your presentation.
8. Know your Super-Objective, and articulate it clearly: At a conference, people are seeing many speakers. Make it easy for your audience to know your Super-Objective (the major action you'd like them to take as a result of your presentation) by stating it clearly at the top, and reminding them in your conclusion: "I'd like you to leave here today and download our latest app that will make all of your business accounting needs easier."
Make it happen: Of course, in order to clearly articulate your Super-Objective, you need to know what it is yourself! Learn how to find and clarify your Super-Objective in our free eBook.
9. Remember, even with a big crowd, eye contact is important: Recently, a friend was telling me about a speaker she'd seen. She was let down because, even though the audience was eager to connect with him, he spent the entire talk looking right over their heads to the back wall, speaking to an unseen "crowd" in a non-existent balcony. Not only was it a bit strange, (everyone knew there was no one there...)but his audience felt left out of his message.
Many people are uncomfortable with eye contact, but it's essential for effective communication. Find the eyes in your audience, so they can participate in your message.
Make it happen: It can be easy to make eye contact with a small crowd. But what about in a crowd of hundreds? Find eyeballs when you can. If you can't see indiviuals, thanks to lighting or size of the audience, do your best to focus on one spot in a given section at a time. The section will still feel that you're speaking to them, not past them.
10. Ask "Why me?": There's a reason you've been asked (or accepted) to speak at this event. Maybe it's your expertise, your unusual approach, or your revolutionary findings. Perhaps you've given a well-attended, highly rated session in the past, or you're known for your side-splitting (yet informative) delivery. Whatever the reason, there's something about YOU that's an asset to this particular event — otherwise, you wouldn't be speaking!
Make it happen: Embrace this idea, and let your personality come through. Ask yourself "Why me?", and don't be afraid to showcase the answer.