Tips for Speaking at a Conference

tips for presenting at a conference

Have you been invited to give a presentation to a live or virtual audience?

The following tips come from observations I've had as an audience member, and from giving dozens of presentations, workshops, or live streams over the past decade.

Note: Tips for how to prepare for a VIRTUAL presentation are at the bottom of this post

1. Look at your AUDIENCE, not the screen

You've seen this dozens of times before: The speaker walks up to the screen and proceeds to read 1,000 words of text line-by-line.

Why am I even sitting in the audience? I could be reading this on their blog!

Confidence and authority is best delivered when you speak to the audience.

Your message will be received and respected when looking at your audience.

2. Have BRIEF introductions

Spend less than 2 minutes introducing yourself

If a host introduces you, then spend even less than two minutes talking about yourself. The host should have set you up as the rock star you are already, so get to the content!

Please don't begin with “Hi. How is everyone? I'm [insert name here]”.

In most cases, people are attending because of the title of your presentation. If they are attending because you are a celebrity then they already know your name.

Get to the car chase right away!

Joe Saul-Sehy from Stacking Benjamins says to begin your presentation like a James Bond movie.

If you need to begin your speech with a personal story – then jump right in.

“It was 10 o'clock at night and the interstate was backed up for miles, but I wasn't going to let that keep me from getting to the hospital.”

Do you want to hear the rest of that story? Me too! (I just made that up, but it got your attention – didn't it?)

Don't tell me WHY !!!

This one kills me (as an audience member):

I read all the sessions in the program and pick one that really interests me. The title says I'm going to learn “How to x”

So I find a seat up front with a scratchpad in hand, ready to take notes.

I'm all excited. “I'm going to finally learn about x!”

Then the presenter comes on. The first 10ish minutes of their half-hour presentation they explain WHY their [insert topic here] is important and why I should care.

UGH!

I already know WHY! Your session title and description pulled me in! I'm sitting in the front row. How much more convincing do I need?

Tell me the HOW !!!

I don't attend conferences and summits for the WHY. I came for the HOW.

Spend less than 1 minute telling me WHY and get to the HOW.

Tell me HOW to do this thing and you'll have my attention for the entire presentation. I may even give you a 5-star rating in the conference app.

3. Stats, Quotes, and BIG images

This may surprise you: Slides are the least important thing in a presentation.

Don't get me wrong: the INFORMATION from your slides can be important. But slides with 50 words of text don't do me any good from the back row.

BIG images, colorful graphs, famous quotes in frilly fonts make for great slides.

Use them to communicate one important point in the 1-3 minutes you spend on that slide.

I've seen presentations where the slides were simply images of nature. At first I thought the facility was using the wrong slide deck.

After a while I realized it was all about the presentation, not the slides.

#insidertip: I've found FANTASTIC royalty-free images at Pixabay.com

Deliver the content, not the slide.

4. About those slides

The organizers should know what ratio the slides will display.

In the good old days, a 4:3 ratio slide was used – but in today’s widescreen world, 16:9 is preferred.

(16:9 presentation slides are often 1920 x 1080 pixels)

Create your slide deck, then save it in at least three places:

  • Your laptop
  • DropBox or Google Drive
  • On a USB thumb drive

#insidertip: Bring all your dongles in your laptop bag/backpack. More and more computers are changing from USB to USB-C inputs. It's also helpful to have an HDMI adapter…just in case

A lesson I learned from Pat Flynn: Save your presentation as images AND pdf.

Pat Flynn once gave his Keynote/PowerPoint to the facilitator, but their computer didn't have the font used in the presentation. All the word were wonky and out of alignment.

You can avoid this by making your slides static. Export each slide as a pdf and you are good-to-to.

5. Audience participation

Encourage us (the audience) to take pictures of your slides.

This is helpful for us to retain information – and remind us of your presentation later when we are scrolling though our camera roll.

Give us a hashtag to include when sharing to social media.

#insidertip: Insert the camera icon image at the bottom of every slide. Include the hashtag so everyone in the room is reminded of what to do and how to share it.

Ask general questions to the audience every 7-10 minutes. This grabs the attention of every one of us who have drifted off or decided that one text was really important to answer right now!

6. Get to know your gear

Point at your laptop, not the screen

Did the facility or organizer give you a clicker? (You know, the little thing used to advance slides?)

Don't point “the clicker” at the screen. The screen is a big piece of fabric and doesn't have any control over your slides.

Point the clicker at the computer that holds your presentation.

If possible, PRACTICE advancing slides before you begin. Get used to pointing at the laptop with your PowerPoint presentation and NOT at the screen.

It's not the batteries…trust me.

Mic technique

Did they give you a handheld mic? PLEASE use proper mic technique.

Hold the mic 1-4 inches away from your mouth, somewhere in front of your chin.

Unless you are rapping, of course…then you should hold it straight out in front of you, right above your nose pointing downward.

I should not hear more than one plosive every 4 minutes (and fewer than that please).

Lapel mics are great. The staff will usually set you up with a wireless transmitter and clip the lapel mic to your shirt or collar.

#insidertip: Pretend like you're not wearing a lapel mic. You are more likely to speak downward when wearing a lapel mic, which can steal some of your energy. Lapel mics are designed to be worn that way and work well. You don't need to help it along by talking down to it.

No mic? Project, don't shout

I've presented at meetups where there were 30 people in a closed bar and the slides were presented on a 50″ flatpanel television mounted on the wall.

There was no need for a mic.

However, you do need to be heard by the folks in the back.

Project your voice, don't shout, by speaking from your diaphragm.

Practice by standing up and reading out loud. Use a blog post or page from a book as your subject matter.

Better yet, script out your speech and read that. Focus on speaking from your diaphragm and less on reading the words well. You'll get there.

7. Attire

I'm not going to suggest what you wear.

I will, however, suggest you take off your badge/lanyard when getting on stage.

I've attended many conferences where you get access to the sessions by wearing the conference badge with your name on it. However, this becomes a distraction when you move from an audience member to the session speaker.

Just remember to put your badge back on before you leave the room.


Example: 5-minute Presentation

Below is an Ignite presentation from 2012.

It was one of the first presentations I did for my own content (meaning not for my old day job).

I think I did pretty good, but also learned a lot.

You can learn a lot too from watching this 5-minute presentation.

Pick out all the things I did wrong.

Go ahead, I've already done it a dozen times. I can take it.


BONUS: Virtual presentations

Webinars, live streams, and virtual summits have become commonplace since 2020.

PLEASE DON'T LOOK LIKE A NEWB!

If you are a podcaster, then you are already familiar with many of the tools needed to perform virtually.

Here are a few more tips about conducting a great presentation over the internet:

  • Enlarge the mouse/cursor. This helps people see what you are trying to point out on the screen. (Mac or Windows)
  • Demonstrating audio techniques? Use voices other than your own so viewers won't be confused when your recorded audio ends and you begin speaking to them again.
  • Will you be on screen? Look at the camera, not your computer screen
  • Wear single color or large pattern shirts/tops
  • Avoid small checkered shirts (your webcam can't keep up with all the detail)
  • Avoid wearing large earrings. They can conflict with earbuds/headsets.
  • Angle your microphone so it isn’t directly in front of your mouth. This will reduce plosives and let the camera capture your whole face.
  • Have your mic on a boom arm. Position the mic at chin-level or higher. Not only does this help you with the tip above, but will cause you to open up your vocal cords when talking straight ahead. Talking downward to a mic on a little desk stand reduces your energy and isn’t natural.
  • Don’t have a mic? GET ONE! In fact, you may already have one. Apple earbuds and others that come with smartphones have pretty good mics built in. However, please be sure to keep the mic from moving and rubbing on things like shirts or long hair. I’m also surprised at the quality of the mic in Apple AirPods. However, you can’t use them as your mic if you have hair over your ears. Just don’t.
  • Lighting is SUPER important. Have light coming at you from in front of you, but off to the side. (Placing light directly in front of you can cause eye fatigue very quickly). A pro tip would be to have light on both sides of you, and at about 45 degree angles in front of you. This helps to eliminate shadows on your face. Top it off with another light that illuminates everything behind you and now you look like a star!

What other tips do you have for presentations?

I've provided you with my laundry list. Do you have tips of your own to share?

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