Being asked to do a presentation at a conference can be a great compliment. It means that someone thinks your work/expertise is so good that it must be shared with others and that it can help other people in their business. However, delivering a presentation can sometimes mean treading on dangerous ground. No matter how knowledgeable you are, there are many other factors involved in giving a memorable presentation. These tips will help you to focus on details that might easily be overlooked.
Manage your time
The organisers at a conference will usually be able to tell you exactly how much time you’ll have on stage. Plan your content to allow you to stay well within these time limits. This can be frustrating, especially if you feel like you have a lot to say, but there is nothing worse than a speaker who goes over the allocated time or spends too much time on one part of the presentation and then has to rush through the end.
Usually, when speakers continue their presentations right up to the end of the sessions, they tend to ask for questions almost as an afterthought. Most of the time, no one will put up their hand. This has very little to do with whether the audience actually has questions or not, and everything to do with whether they feel allowed (time permitting) to ask questions. The best option is to finish 10 minutes early, allowing enough time for questions from the audience.
Focus your content
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many speakers give presentations without making their point clear. To help you convey a concise message, ask yourself the following:
- What is my message?
- Who should hear this message?
- Why should they care about this message?
- What will it mean to them?
Asking yourself these questions before, during and after designing your presentations will help you to communicate core ideas or messages that the audience will easily pick up on and remember.
This is especially important when someone else prepared the slides on your behalf. It is also the best way of knowing how much time you’ll need – you cannot estimate the time your presentation will take by the number of slides prepared. Properly rehearsing your presentation will allow you to get a better feel of the structure and flow of information, and you might even realise that you missed a thought or that you could be over-emphasizing a concept. It is also a good opportunity to try to get rid of little verbal tics that might distract the audience from your core message.
Know your audience
It is bad when a speaker assumes the audience knows things they actually don’t know. It is far worse when a speaker assumes the audience don’t know things they actually do know and frustrate them by explaining things they already know in detail to them. Before giving a presentation, find out what your audience knows and what they want to learn from you. If you think it’s necessary to explain some fundamental concepts, don’t talk down to the people sitting in front of you. Just say you’re briefly going to discuss some background to support the key points you’ll make later.
Make sure you’re not just stringing out facts and statistics, and put in some effort to convey most of the information with the help of stories. That way, more people will understand you better.
Know what you are talking about
When presenting at a conference, you can be sure that you’ll be asked questions, or that someone will want to pick your brain about a certain topic. You have to be able to respond to questions on the go. Sometimes it will happen that you have to present on a topic that you are not as comfortable with, but in this case, you just have to put some extra effort into your preparation. Take extra time when rehearsing to think about the topic and what it means, and do some additional research on the questions that you ask yourself.
Plan your presentation
Structure your presentation by communicating the core concepts first, then elaborating on these in more detail as necessary and end off with a conclusion that reiterates your core concepts. Most presenters will use Powerpoint or some other type of presentation software. These visual materials are there to support you, not to carry you. The presentation should therefore also be designed as such. Remember that less is more, and don’t be afraid to balance imagery and text. The combination will keep your slides visually interesting, and having less textual information on your slides will allow the audience to focus more on what you are saying.
Finally, relax and be yourself. Once you have properly prepared the content, you can focus on the relationship you are building with the audience.