Have you ever seen a request for conference proposals and thought, “Hey, I should do that,” only to find a million excuses to miss the deadline? I’m a terrible public speaker. They wouldn’t accept me anyway. What could I teach a group of experienced professionals?
You’re not the only one. Presenting at conferences or seminars can be a daunting task, particularly for young professionals who may be addressing a more experienced audience. But, fortunately, there are brave souls who have gone before us and – despite being younger and less experienced than some of their peers – presented at a professional conference.
So what do you need to know to put on a great presentation? Read on to discover the dos and don’ts of presenting at conferences, straight from the lips of those who have already been there.
Do Arrive Early
Arriving early allows you to scope out the room, determine where you’ll speak from and plan the logistics of any group activities that may require people to move around. It also allows you a bit of time to relax before your presentation, and ensures you won’t be flustered from running late or having inadequate time to set up.
“Show up for your session early so you can get set up and settled in before people get there. Starting on the right foot makes all the difference!” – Jason
Do Play to Your Strengths
No matter your age, you have valuable experience in the nonprofit world and valuable insights from which others can benefit. Know your strengths – both in content and presentation style – and play to them.
“Own your own knowledge and experience, and let your confidence and your enthusiasm for the subject matter show.” - Cary
Do Involve the Audience
There’s a lot more to presenting than simply speaking to an audience. People are more likely to be engaged with your subject matter – and, over time, remember it – if you involve them in your presentation. This is especially true in longer sessions.
“An audience-participation component breaks up a presentation that otherwise might begin to feel like a lecture.” - Tom
Do Allow for Flexibility
While it may be tempting to plan your presentation to the very last detail, it’s important to remember that each audience is different. What works for one may not work for another. So be ready to change up your plans if the audience isn’t responding.
“You simply won't know who will be in the room until your session gets underway. So whether everyone is an expert or a novice on the topic at hand, be ready to tailor your presentation to their level.” - Kelly
Do Spice Up Your Visual Aids
Visuals are an important part of an engaging presentation, but using the same old wordy PowerPoint slides that audiences have seen a million times won’t necessarily enhance the learning process. Be creative – whether you use PowerPoint or something else – and try using visuals in new, memorable ways.
“Prezi still has the ability to wow a crowd. Even if you do end up using PowerPoint, ponder deeply on how to make your slides something more than just a series of bullet points that you read out loud. Your audience will thank you for it.” - Chris
Don’t Dismiss Opportunities to Collaborate
It’s common to have multiple presenters at a conference or seminar session. Think about this when you’re considering submitting a proposal. Collaborating with one or two others can make your presentation stronger and, as a result, more likely to be accepted.
“You’re not an expert on everything. Collaborating with a colleague or friend allows you to draw from a broader base of expertise. And it means you’ll only need to present about half the time.” - Lisa
Don’t Speak Too Quickly
A very common mistake, particularly among younger presenters, is speaking too fast. People who are nervous about public speaking may speak quickly without even realizing it. If it’s your first time presenting, consider having a friend or colleague sit in the back and subtly signal you if your pace is too rapid.
“Speak at a conversational speed. People can't keep up if you're talking too fast.” - Amanda
Don’t Memorize Your Content
It may be tempting to plan out every word of your presentation and memorize it so that you get your content “just right.” The most engaging speakers, however, allow room for improvisation. This allows you to interact with the audience and let your own personality shine through.
“Memorizing exactly what you want to say can sometimes leave you seeming like a robot. It removes your ability to include your personality and sense of humor.” - Tom
Don’t Take On Too Much
The time you’re given will rarely be enough to cover the intricacies of your subject matter. Don’t try to include everything you know. Narrow down the topic into bite-sized pieces that people can understand and, in turn, put into practice.
“If you're doing an hour-long presentation, try to narrow down what you're sharing as much as possible to no more than three to four key points.” – Cary
Want more insights on presenting at conferences? Don’t miss YNPN-TC’s Emerging Leaders Network: Showcase Yourself lunch on April 20th!