Conference speaking
By Gemma Morris
23rd March 2015

Last week we looked at what makes a successful conference speaker. But we've all sat through presentations or seminars where we got bored, started surreptitiously checking our emails on our phones and left without remembering anything that the speaker told us about.

If you are at the stage in your career where you’re being asked to speak at events, consider carefully if you’re guilty of any of our top five no nos. The impact of a poor performance could harm your personal reputation, damage your company’s brand and limit the opportunities that suddenly appear when you start on the speaking circuit.


Over-rely on your slides. Remember that PowerPoint, Prezi or Keynote are tools to support your presentation, not to replace it. Don’t use them as a crutch, and don’t just read them out to the audience – this is the cardinal sin of presentations and yet still happens so frequently.

Be obvious. Whatever the size of your audience, and the grandeur of your venue, most people will be sitting back expecting a slide presentation. Conference speakers who just stand up and speak without any visual aids can be highly memorable because your attention doesn't get split between the person and the screen. Similarly, live demonstrations or presentations that spin off audience participation (e.g. questions or polls) create a point of difference that people enjoy.

Rush. Don’t forget – as well as you know the topic, your audience is likely to be hearing it for the first time. Give them time to come on the journey with you. If you’re rushing because you've got 45 minutes worth of content to squeeze into half an hour, be brutal about editing and accept that in trying to say everything, you risk ending up saying nothing.

Stand still. Speakers who are anchored behind a lectern tend not to change the pace of their presentation. The result can appear restricted, stilted and uncomfortable. Charismatic speakers will own the whole stage and not be afraid to emphasise points through body language and gestures. Energy is contagious – become more dynamic and watch your audience perk up.

Be vanilla. The speeches that are talked about and remembered after the conference are often the ones that unveil new information, make controversial observations, or take a minority viewpoint. Trying to appease everyone can read as bland, and it won’t get you asked back to speak the next year.

If you’re feeling guilty of any of these presentation sins, why not consider investing in some skills training? With practice, great content and a healthy dose of confidence, there’s no reason to think you can’t become a better conference speaker. 

If you’re a regular conference speaker, please share your advice with our readers on how to do it successfully. And if you’re a seminar attendee, tell us about the presentations that you remember, whether that’s for the right or wrong reasons!


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