Conference speaking
By Gemma Morris
20th March 2015

Have you been asked to speak for the first time at an event? Or are you a seasoned conference speaker on a return engagement? Then it’s time to take a look at your presentation skills. A successful appearance can be memorable, even influential, for the audience and can have a major impact on your career. Below are some of our top tips for making a lasting impression.

DO:

Set goals: As a first step, think about the conferences you’ve attended. What made the good speakers stand out in your mind? What made the more woeful presentations difficult to endure? Before you begin to prepare, establish a few realistic benchmarks in your mind about what you want to achieve and how you want attendees to remember you.

Be passionate: Perhaps you’ve been asked to speak on something specific, or you’ve been given carte blanche to devise your own topic. Either way, you must have something to say. This may sound like an oversimplification – but the fact is, if the subject matter is not something you feel strongly about or have in-depth expertise in, your presentation will feel rote, by-the-numbers, or worst of all – insincere. If you’re not interested in the topic, why should anyone be?

Know your audience: Who is in attendance? What’s the impact you want to make on them? Even at technology conferences, it’s best not to assume everyone will have the same level of knowledge, so try to find the right middle ground that will get newbies onboard but not bore the techies to tears. Also, don’t be afraid to let your audience know you. Be clear on your personal objectives for speaking, and spend a minute or two on your background and qualifications.

Adapt your style: If you’re an executive or entrepreneur being asked about the secrets of your success, it’s more engaging to talk directly to the audience, relying more on humour and anecdote, for example, than a slide presentation. If you’re demonstrating a product or service, then a live feed to show it in practice is better than static slides. If you’re presenting data, you’ll find some useful ideas in our blog post here.

For example, we once watched a speaker from Google perform a live search on his phone to demonstrate a new algorithm, and by showing it on a huge screen actually working in real time, he made it that much more effective.

Prepare, rehearse. Then rehearse some more. You might think you can wing it, but even the most seasoned speakers can benefit from more practice. Do a dry run for friends, or film yourself and review for areas to improve upon. (Think of professional athletes watching match re-runs to fine-tune their performance.) With every practice, you become more concise and fluent, more comfortable with the material, more at ease with your own personal style.

Give it some structure:  There’s a reason why so many titles are lists, e.g. ‘3 silver bullets for success’. There’s an instant hook, and a natural progression to your presentation. Of course not every topic lends itself to this structure, so in other cases, be clear about your main thesis in your opening, and be sure the rest of the presentation breaks down into bullet-points to support it. People want to hear things they can take away and put into practice, so make your points easy to remember.

Be confident: Some speakers have an effortless dynamism, or are naturally witty, and they make it look deceptively easy. Most of us, though, have to develop skills that make us more engaging speakers, and chief among them is confidence. It may sound like a cliché, but if we don’t have confidence in ourselves, no one else will buy into what we’re saying. Particularly if you’re presenting for the first time, consider some presentation skills training if you’re not a confident speaker to learn how to control nerves, project your voice, and create personal impact.

Conference speaking can raise your personal profile, connect you with industry leaders and innovators, and boost your corporate brand, so it’s well worth investing the time to make your speech memorable.

After your speaking engagement, prepare yourself for being in the foyer with people who want to meet you, as well as a spike in views of your LinkedIn profile and in your number of Twitter followers. You can even generate an increase in traffic to your company website, especially if you’re a consultant or responsible for a new, innovative product. And if you’ve done your job well, you can look forward to further speaking requests.

What are your top tips for conference speaking? What qualities do the most appealing and memorable presenters have in common? We’d like to hear your feedback, whether you’re a conference speaker or a frequent attendee.

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