Presenting at a Conference

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 , 4 comments


A recent trip to a conference displayed a real range in the quality of presentations being delivered. Some presentations were very good; some were below average. And it was clear what the differentiator was: the good presenters had thought ahead and prepared for the conference. The poor ones seemed to have hashed together some old slides and simply sent along whoever was available on the day.

So if you’re presenting at a conference – what should you do beforehand? What questions should you ask yourself in order to help you maximise your effort?

1. Check the setup at the conference. How many people does your conference room seat? Do you have just one big screen, or smaller ones as well? Will audiences be able to see them clearly? Is there a sound system? How can you ensure all of your audience will experience your presentation fully?

All of these questions are important when it comes to the setup of your presentation. You may not always have control over the technical aspects of your meeting room such as screens and speakers, but you should always make an effort to know what the situation will be in advance. Know that you’ll be using a microphone in order for your audience to hear you? Practise with one beforehand. Suspect that the projector won’t provide the contrast you’re used to? Ensure that your slides are built to counteract this.

2. Use visual aids your audiences can see! At a conference, your audience is large, and some will be very far back. Don’t put slides some members of your audience won’t be able to see properly – it is useless, and irritating. Ensure that all of your graphs, images and text are big enough to be seen clearly by everyone in your audience – even those at the back.

3. Don’t choose your expert to deliver your presentation. Subject matter experts may know their topics inside out, but they don’t necessarily know how to present. They tend to get bogged down in the detail, and bore (or worse, confuse!) the audience. Someone with less specific knowledge but a broader overview tends to find it easier to get the key messages across. Choose someone who is a better presenter, and keep your expert on hand to answer questions at the end.

4. Don’t just use screenshots for your visual aids. Screenshots are a very popular choice for presenters at a conference, but are not always relevant. Think about what your visuals are bringing to the presentation. Why are you using them? How do you want them to benefit your audience? Screenshots might seem an obvious option, but unless they are really helping you to make your point in a compelling way, don’t put them in.

5. Don’t use cartoons and ClipArt. It’s fine to be humorous, but make sure you are actually humorous. ClipArt is rarely actually funny, and it’s far more important to make sure that you’re still professional. You don’t want to look like you just couldn’t be bothered to source quality visuals.

6. Do take risks. If you have a great idea to peak your audience’s interest, by all means include it. Just make sure that they remember the right things. If all they remember is a stupid joke you make that had no relevance to your content, you’ve missed the point. If, however, your unique idea ties in neatly to your message, then you’re onto a winner.

7. Don’t use full sentences. Why are people still doing this? The only time you should ever include a full sentence on a slide is when delivering a direct quote. And when this is the case, presenters shouldn’t read the quote. Instead, they should pause and let their audience read it themselves. They’ll appreciate it. In addition, going quiet temporarily will cause anyone who wasn’t paying attention to look up. Win-win.

8. Don’t include a company intro. If you’re presenting at a conference, audience members are there because they think they are going to learn something useful and/or interesting from you. At the first stage, they want to know that you’re qualified to speak on your topic, but they’re not interested in what your business does or what you’d like to sell to them. If the first half of your presentation is on your corporate overview, you’ve already lost them.

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4 Comments to Presenting at a Conference

  1. #1


    1:18 pm, August 3rd, 2012

    These are really helpful tips, thank you. One thing I find very useful is to use the website Present.Me. It’s really quick to set up an account and start using and it allows you to attach a video of yourself presenting to your PowerPoint presentation. It means you can deliver presentations even when you’re not there but also helps rehearsal by being able to watch and listen to yourself. It will help eliminate things you mention above like not getting bogged down in subject matter etc. Anyway, hope this helps!

  2. #2

    Jessica Pyne

    1:18 pm, August 6th, 2012

    Thank you, Charlotte – yes, watching yourself back can be a useful trick when rehearsing.

  3. #3


    4:12 pm, August 9th, 2012

    Great article. I have to sit through a lot of presentations and there’s nothing worse than tiny visual aids. Rather irritating!
    Charlotte – interesting you mention Present.Me. It’s my new favourite toy and I’m rather obsessed with it at the moment. I send it in my place to deliver presentations due to my busy schedule. Glad to see some other people are using it too.

  4. #4

    Jessica Pyne

    9:37 am, August 13th, 2012

    Thanks Colin, glad you agree! And it’s always good to see other people are using the same technology as you – it can help to share tips!