How to Give a Great Conference Presentation

conference presentationI showed my boss my slides. He gave me a few pointers, told me to add a few things, then told me I’d be great.

“There’s just one piece of advice I want to give you,” he said. “It’s the only advice that matters.”

“I’m listening,” I responded.

“Remember, you’re the expert. Nobody knows more about your topic than you. Remember that, and you’ll be set.”

I realized he was right. Although I’d panicked a bit earlier in the week when I realized I was giving not one, but two presentations on the same day, I knew it was an opportunity to shine.

A very dear friend called on my plane ride over. I’d like to think the message he left happened at the same time I was taking notes. He’s a professional motivational speaker (coolest job ever, right?) and he knew my speech was coming up. “Here’s my advice. Do not imagine the audience naked. That never works.”

Okay, so I’m the expert and the audience is fully clothed. I learned a few more tricks that helped me that day, and I think could help you if you’re ever called to give a conference presentation.


Top Conference Presentation Tips

You Belong

The one thing that trips me up more than anything else is this feeling that I am somehow anĀ impostor, hacking my way in to this space, somehow unwelcome. Never mind that I am actually knowledgeable about the topic I’ve been asked to discuss. Never mind that I didn’t solicit this speaking engagement, they asked me. So, do what I did, and tell yourself a different story. Here’s what I told myself: “You were asked to speak because you have something valuable to contribute. They want to learn from you. They’re eager to hear what you’ll teach them.” There is real value in positive self talk.

Slides are Background Decor

This time, since I was giving two presentations, I was able to experiment. The first one had very few words per slide. There were, at most, five words per slide, and many had just two. I still had a company branded background and a friendly-looking image. The second was much more traditional PowerPoint, and had many bullet points per slide, with a lot of words. THe first had a much more engaged audience. Which leads me to my next point.

Be Engaging

Relax. Smile. Don’t touch your hair or fidget your hands. Look people in the eye. My trick for this is to say an entire sentence to one person, and then move on to the next. Don’t go back to the same person each time, because that can be misconstrued as creepy. Find people who are looking at you. It’ll just frustrate you to try to make eye contact with the guy who’s looking at his cell phone.

Don’t Introduce Yourself

I learned this one the other day. Let the emcee introduce you, and cut to the meat of your presentation. Start with a big, startling fact (I picked a number) and ask if anyone knows the significance. Refer back to this number several times throughout your conference presentation. Of course, it goes without saying that you want this fact to be relevant to the rest of your topic!

Slow Down, Then Slow Down Again

You belong! So, don’t rush through your presentation. It’s not a race. You have the audience’s attention — and you have earned it. Remember, you’re not doing anyone a favor by treating this presentation like a race. The audience has nowhere else to go! You’re not handing out flyers on a busy intersection. You’re in a place where people have come because they are interested in what you have to say.

Don’t Fill the Entire Alotted Space

Allow time for questions at the end. I was given 45 minutes, and I planned for 35. I didn’t take my own advice and finished in 30, but the Q & A was absolutely the best, and strongest part, of the entire presentation. Depending on your audience, you may not even need to answer every question that’s put forth. You’ll find allies in the audience. Let them answer!

Use Humor

I only had one silly/cheesy joke, but it went over so well that my next presentation will have a lot more. People like to laugh. They’re cheering you on, in a way. It also wakes up those whose attention has drifted. “I missed something funny? Shoot, I’ll pay closer attention now.”

Tell Stories

I got this bit of advice from my reading of personal finance blogs. We all relate better to the poster who is telling a story from “the trenches” while they’re experiencing their path toward financial freedom than we get from “27 Ways to Save on Your Target Shopping Experience” and that’s true in real life, too. Stories about people who used to do things one way (the wrong way, it turns out) before meeting me and changing their ways. Stories about how using our product got people what they wanted. I don’t think you can tell too many stories in a presentation. Keep the stories relevant. Imagine a parable in the bible that didn’t relate back to the teachings at hand.

Do you give conference presentations at work? Do you have more tips?

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  1. says

    Practice, practice, practice! I used to make presentations all the time , although it was for smaller groups. Practicing helped me become better doing it.

  2. says

    I give a lot of presentations. I find that I always need to slow down about twice in the first minute. Then I’ve got my pace established and I’m good to go.

    When I was new to the presentation game, I practiced like crazy. Now I find it more beneficial to practice for questions rather than the actual presentation.

    This might be science/technical specific, but design your slides to be clear. And to clearly illustrate or state the points that you want to make. Use cartoons and illustrations to help guide the listener through complex ideas.

    Assume that your audience knows as little as possible about your topic. Then it’s up to you to get everyone from the baseline to where you want them to be.

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