Friday, March 25, 2016

How to Prep a Conference Presentation

Congratulations! You have a speaking gig at a conference coming up. Your only problem? Now you have to prep your presentation for what you hope will be a huge and welcoming audience.

Where do you begin? Hopefully you have identified the topic to speak on and have sketched out your content, but now you need to take some action to prevent your presentation from becoming the snoozefest in the middle of the conference.

Once you've got your structure down, take a look through your deck and make sure you have taken care of a few basics.

Include Your Contact Info

You have to decide how much contact information you want to share with the crowd. But you should make sure to provide them a way to reach you and follow-up after the conference. If you have a Twitter account or Facebook page, share that information so that interested audience members can reach out for additional information. Plug your website. You might give out an email address as well (if you're worried, set up a separate account just for this purpose).

If they do reach out, try to be responsive. Those that contact you are showing true interest in you and what you have to say. Engaging them helps you build your network and grow a list of potential customers as well for your future endeavors.

Vary Your Slides

Nothing is more boring than twenty slides of straight bullet text. Likewise, presentations made of abstract pictures with nothing to do with the content of the speech will, at best, lose half of your audience.

When putting your content together, I would recommend against any slide but an agenda consisting only of text. Instead, you should try to include some sort of visual aid on every slide. Charts, graphs, diagrams, photos, and other visual content should balance out any text or bullet lists on the slide.

Also, try to restrain yourself from overkilling the text on any slide. Even with a visual included, you can still overdo the text elements, creating an eye chart for your audience or a wall of text. Remember, you plan to present content with your voice, not your writing. The slides should be a complement to your voice over, not a replacement.

Tie Into a Theme

Does the conference have a particular theme? Make sure your presentation ties into it. You want your content to slide seamlessly in with the other speakers. 

Your presentation should have a theme as well. Perhaps you can tie it back to your corporate theme. Try to build a connection between the theme of your presentation and the overall theme of the conference. Show how one sits within the other, or supports the idea of the other.

If your particular conference does not have a theme, and instead just brings together speakers in a particular industry group, your presentation should still have a theme. Think about the relevance of the theme in the context of the industry group and adjust your content as necessary to align with their needs.

Get Feedback

Want to know how your audience is going to react to your content? Find a trial audience. Get a friend, family member, or coworker to review whatever you plan to present.

Ask them pointed questions about the content. Is it too dry? Will the audience understand your graphics? Are your jokes funny? What ideas do they have to make it better?

The more feedback you receive, the better. You can choose whether or not to incorporate any of the comments you receive, but having options will give you a better sense of which changes you should consider more important.

Slides Are Reusable, Presentations Are Not

If you have the even greater luck of presenting multiple times at the conference, you should remember this rule. You can reuse some of your slides, but you cannot reuse your presentation.

Of course, this rule would not apply if the conference has been organized in such a way that guarantees you will not see the same audience twice. Some conferences have "tracks." for example, where different subsets of the attendees will view content at different scheduled times.

However, in all other situations, you should make sure you have varying topics with different content for your multiple speeches. In the event you make some fans in your first presentation, those individuals may try to catch one of your other topics. Boring them with the same content a second time may turn them off, just as they were getting to really like what you had to offer.

Obviously, creating a new presentation for each speech avoids any problems for repeat audiences. But if you are speaking multiple times, you might not be able to create enough content to fill every session. If you find it necessary to reuse a slide, go ahead and do so. Audiences will be fine seeing a slide or two that they have seen before, as long as it fits into new content and a new message. Still, try to keep slide reuse less than ten percent or so per presentation.

Use a Timer

Many presentation venues will have timers built into screens that you as the speaker have available to you. But you should always have a method of keeping time yourself. Know the window that you are slated to speak - is it thirty minutes? an hour?

If you use newer versions of Powerpoint, the speaker screen (on the laptop or tablet) will include both your speaker notes and a timer. Don't read, but glancing down from time to time to check your pace will help.

You can also download many free presentation timers. Many allow you to set vibration alerts during your speech to let you know where you are at various checkpoints. Or you can have a full screen timer that you can set up on the floor or podium to be available as a quick reference. Just remember to turn off your other alerts during your speech.

Practice, Practice, Practice

How many times have you practiced your presentation? Not enough. You should know your content inside and out. Know how long that one joke about the last meeting you were in will add to your speech time. Know a longer and shorter version of your same presentation. Be able to cue the embedded video in your presentation in your sleep, making doing it with a wireless click device from a stage in front of thousands seamless.

You may also find practicing in front of an audience equally helpful. Try identifying a few loyal friends or family members that you can persuade to listen and provide normal feedback on your speech and presentation. Try to find some that are similar to the actual audience that you expect to speak to.

Then go practice again.

Add Extra Content with Ejection Points

You cannot very well pad your presentation with fifteen extra slides just in case you get the jitters in front of your audience and blast through your content and need some more at the end. At best, they would seem out of place crammed into the end of your presentation and in the middle of the presentation, they would seem like fluff "filler content" to your audience.

Instead of adding actual slides that you have to click through and skip (which may raise the eyebrows of your audience), you should focus on the content of your presentation. You may be faced with a situation where you have to "fill time" and having these bullet points available can help minimize the impact during that time.

However, you still have to make sure the content stays relevant and really adds additional detail to the content in your base presentation.

This extra content may never see the light of day (or the sound of day since you would be speaking it?), but it can provide you with a comfort buffer so you only have to worry about fitting into the time window, rather than not having enough content.

Your best bet? Glance at that timer and pace yourself.


Your first big speaking event demands a little celebration. But after you take that brief moment to pop the champagne cork and do a little dance, you need to start prepping.

Getting your presentation right can win your audience and even build you a set of contacts that lasts beyond the conference itself. Prepping includes practice, soliciting feedback, making sure you have the right content, and mastering the material. And once you've prepped, the actual presentation should be smooth and easy. And if it's not, you've prepared for that as well.

Got additional thoughts? Join the email list and you can reply back to me directly to start the conversation.