you’ll be a speaker at a large conference: how to best prepare?

Quite like the author of the post  » Preparing to present at conferences « , I spent many hours looking at the back of presenters as they were reading bullet point slides on the screen behind them.

In fact, I do confess that I made this error myself many times. And, I do not think that I should feel so ashamed about it. In the French educational system, at the time when I was a student, nobody explained to me how to realize presentations, speak in public and communicate messages via presentations. Fortunately, I was able to witness that this has changed with my daughters and nephews who have the opportunity in their engineering or management schools to deliver many individual and group presentations to expose their work with the support of PowerPoint slides.

Although certainly less experimented on the subject than the author of the above mentioned post, here are a few points that I personally try to stick to:

  • Know exactly the message which I would like the audience to retain and what I would like to see them do or change after my presentation.
  • Take the necessary time for the preparation of the presentation. Even on a well mastered subject, it is important to carefully prepare the intervention, to analyze the audience and the objective to reach, as well as the physical and material conditions of the presentation. To achieve this, I recently was again reminded not to jump into PowerPoint from the start. I begin by writing on paper or on a whiteboard the scenario, the storyboard of what I wish to tell, structure the talk, before reflecting on how to translate this at best in the form of PowerPoint slides.
  • Avoid busy slides. The presentation is only a support to the speech. It needs to facilitate the memorization by the audience of some elements, in particular with the help of pictures and striking illustrations. In the case of an in person presentation in front of a wide audience, there is no point in having a lot of text on your slides. It is more efficient to create an emotion, send a message, tell a story which the audience will remember easily and on which it will take action. An effective presentation is a presentation of which you can see the effects as would say my professor of « Effective Meetings and Presentation Skills ».
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse … The D-day, the speech must be fluid, natural, seem like it’s not been prepared. No benefit in reading the slides during the presentation, they are « only » an illustration of the speech which you master from A to Z. You also prepared anecdotes and references from your personal experience to give life to the points which you try to make. You also tried to anticipate at best the questions, and may ask them yourself if they do not come spontaneously.
  • Review the room and the material conditions of the intervention in advance. Which type of microphone for example: static (to banish), clip-on microphone, and hand held microphone. This is going to influence, even limit your capacity of movement. It is better to be aware in advance and plan for it. Moving the slides forward: remote control, operator (it will be necessary to prepare this person in advance), requiring yourself to go to the PC to move the presentation forward… This is going to influence the dynamics of your show and choice of animation for your slides for example.
  • If you plan to use sound or video during the presentation (a good idea to revitalize long sessions), please make sure that they work well in the room, both visually and acoustically, and this, even from the back of the room.
  • Preparing a paper to accompany the presentation in Word, Acrobat or a Web article, is a good idea. Indicate that this document exists and where to find him(it) in the audience in the beginning of your presentation(display) so that she(it) focuses on the listening of what you have to tell rather than to try to note everything.
  • Try to understand the expectations of the foreseen assistance as well as the organization which gives you the opportunity to present your topic. Get as much info as you can on both.
  • Supplying your presentation pack well in advance is also a good idea even when it is not expressly required by the organizer. It forces you to be 100 % ready well ahead of the event. In your second reading, a few days before the intervention, you can simply review and decide upon the examples which you plan to use and the stories to be told according to the latest events and news.
  • Plan to have a glass of water during the presentation. It allows you to avoid having a dry throat and it also allows stopping for a few seconds to think during the course of your speech.
  • Exceeding your speaking time is never a good idea, in particular if there are other presenters coming after you.

Here is a video I found to illustrate this topic.

What else would you add to complement this initial list?

2 réflexions sur “you’ll be a speaker at a large conference: how to best prepare?

  1. Danielle

    I would add that no matter what, if you make a mistake or if you have a blank (and it does happen even to the most prepared speaker) take a deep breath. To the speaker, it will seem forever, to the audience, it will just give them time to mull over what you said before. This give the speaker a rest to get his/her bearings back. Light humor always helps also.


  2. Ping : Who else wants to better prepare for being a speaker at a large conference ? (some more tips) « Dantotsu PM

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