Participants in my courses have often said, “It’s hardest to present to peers!” They’re right. It calls for a strong mindset. And so does presenting at large conferences where the room is set for 200 and may attract 32 who move in and out as they please!
Ah! Summer – the time for barbecues, sun, sprinklers – and the National Speakers Association National Conference. Every year we professional speakers gather while everyone else is on vacation. And this year, I presented a 75-minute concurrent session program to my peers.Here are three things I’ve learned to help you conquer the conference presentation:
- Go for audience EXPERIENCE.
- Think DIALOGUE.
- Practice with ANOTHER SET OF EYES.
EXPERIENCE, not content. Avoid the natural tendency to dump your data to impress a large, savvy group. Data is important but can be added in a handout later. Instead, strive to share the experience of YOU – meaning your stories with the data. It’s the difference between saying, “65% of us are introverts,” and “Let me share what happened with a room of quiet, analytical engineers recently.” Think, “I’m sharing my best “stuff” with friends.”
DIALOGUE, not dumping. Someone once told me, “They’re always happier when they’re talking.” While this may seem the antithesis of conference presenting, there are many ways to engage even the largest and most discerning audiences and “let them talk”. Allowing questions at any time is standard. You can also ask them to briefly check in with a seatmate, write something down, or react and apply your content. Getting out among them is the best way to encourage dialogue. That means stepping off the stage for a bit, really listening to their feedback, and tying it into your points.
PRACTICE, not “winging.” This is the time to get another set of eyes on your 75 minutes. Don’t try to do it alone. For the NSA conference, I presented my program to college students and a trusted colleague who is also a professional speaker. I’m glad I did! As a result of their input, I cut my note pages in half, added visuals to my power point, clarified instructions for an interactive activity, and customized my opening story. I would not have thought of any of this myself. Many of their ideas garnered my most successful audience reactions.
So while others may be basking in the sun, heating up the grill, or sipping lemonade this summer, take the time to pamper your conference speech. When it’s your turn in the big, cold hotel room, you’ll be glad you did!
Your feedback and additional ideas are always welcomed.