Preparing to Speak at Your First Conference
I recently read a post aimed at preparing you for your first professional presentation. It brought back the great memories but also left me reflecting on some of the important first time lessons that I learned along the way (most notably the stressful ones). Presenting is a rewarding and nerve-wracking experience. With the right preparation it is one that you may want to repeat again and again after getting your feet wet.
A lot of blood, sweat, and tears goes into a presentation. It is easy to underestimate the time and preparation needed to develop a quality presentation that you will feel proud of for many years to come. Here are some tips and words of wisdom that hopefully will make your first presentation a success.
Along this journey you will, at least once, doubt your abilities. Remember that of all the people that the organization or conference could have chosen to speak, they chose you! Don't forget to take the time to stop and smell the roses while delving into your to do list.
2. Every expert was once a beginner
You already have an idea of what kind of presentation you want to deliver. This was probably influenced by great sessions that you have attended, that inspired you. Every presenter began somewhere and learned from their successes and failures in order to become the speaker you remember them as. Take time to organize your thoughts. Refer back to them as you prepare your session, to ensure that your final product is in line with what you envisioned.
3. Rome wasn't built in a day
So start preparing as early as possible. It is easy to procrastinate without even realizing it. A presentation two, three, or even six months away leaves you with plenty of time to prepare, right? Think again! It will be here before you know it and your first presentation will take much longer to prepare than you may think. Start jotting down ideas, bookmarking resources, and planning out your session as soon as you are selected. Creating an organizational framework gives you the time to revise your ideas and explore new ones as they emerge. Building upon this framework over time will leave you with a comprehensive and well-developed presentation. There are many factors the day of your presentation that you may not be able to control, but you can take comfort in knowing that you presented the best presentation possible.
4. Find out what technology is available
Your sponsor should provide you with detailed information regarding your technological needs and available options at the site of your presentation. If they don't, ASK!
- Will you have to bring your own computer?
- If they provide the computer, is it a MAC or a PC?
You want your presentation to be compatible.
Will your presentation program be available on their computer?
- If you are bringing a computer, will they provide specific
connectors or will you?
- Will you have video, audio, or Internet capabilities during the presentation?
There is nothing more frustrating than your video not working or a link that is inaccessible during your presentation. You may want to explore your options for downloading or saving your videos, taking the worry out of WiFi availability or networking difficulties. Try embedding your videos in your presentation to provide seamless presentation of video content.
5. Consider your audience
There is a big difference in giving a presentation to 20 attendees in a small room versus a conference room that can hold 200 to 500 people. Research the room size ahead of time. A smaller audience elicits the opportunity to ask questions and dialogue, while a larger room creates more distance between the speaker and the attendees. What kind of feel do you want to convey? Are you the speaker that will walk around a large room or will you stay glued to the podium? Will you take questions during the presentation or want people to wait until the end? Also consider the needs of your listeners. A professional conference allows you to include a large amount of information in an allotted time, while a parent group may need more examples in a listener friendly format with the option of asking questions and discussing information throughout the session. If you are giving a poster presentation, you will want to be prepared to answer questions and direct your listener to key components.
6. Carefully craft your visual presentation
Starting early allows you to learn how to build a presentation using Power Point or Prezi. Select a text and background color that will be easy to read when projected in a variety of lighting configurations. Light text/dark background or dark text/light backgrounds are optimal. Select an easy to read text such as Arial, Avenir, Cambria, or Calibri to name a few. Finally resist the urge to put as much text as possible on your slides. You want to find the perfect balance between having a) too much information resulting in your audience attending more to the slides than you and b) too little resulting in massive note taking or handouts that are not helpful later on. Include relevant pictures and short videos that keep your audience attentive. Be mindful of copyright infringement, particularly if you are using your slides as handouts.
7. Find a sounding board
Find a few trustworthy colleagues to act as a sounding board. Whether it is fact checking, proofreading handouts, or listening to you run through your entire presentation, the feedback will be invaluable! That pesky thing called doubt will raise its head along the way and the seal of approval offered by those you trust will ensure that your information is accurate and your presentation will be a success.
8. Practice, practice, practice
You want to know your presentation front to back so that you are ready for game day. Jot down your key points for each slide, either in the notes section of your presentation or on paper. Reviewing the material will ensure that you can stare into the eyes of a room full of people and explain your material in a calm and coherent manner. You will want to practice so that your presentation does not involve you reading your notes or slides or sounding as though you have the whole thing memorized. Practice in a manner that works for you. Look for opportunities to practice being in front of a large group of people, whether that is speaking at church or asking a question at a PTA meeting. If a lot is riding on your first presentation, you may want to practice running through it a few times. This will help you gauge your time as well as presenting information while working the computer. If you are giving a poster presentation think of a quick "elevator speech" highlighting key points within 2-3 minutes.
9. Have a backup plan
If your presentation is electronic, bring your computer so that you can make any last minute minor changes that you find. Save your presentation on a thumb drive or upload it to the cloud. Rarely do you need it but if anything happens, you will want the comfort of knowing that you have a backup copy! If you are presenting a poster presentation, pack your poster in a hard cased poster tube. Check your airline to identify your options prior to arriving at the airport. Will you be able to carry it on board or will your have to check it as luggage? Regardless, make sure that you have your contact information on both the inside and outside of the tube. Many times you also have the option of mailing your poster ahead of time to the organization, conference center, or hotel. Packing a few supplies such as thumbtacks, white out, tape or other items may assist you in mounting your poster or correcting that inescapable typo. Finally, if possible, identify a colleague that is attending your presentation who can be a helpful pair of hands if needed. She can let you know that the volume is too low or go get the IT guy if needed while you continue your presentation.
10. Be yourself!!
Last but definitely not least, be yourself!! You are sharing something that you are an expert in, and LOVE to talk about! Attendees likely learn the most from those that are passionate about their topic and take the time to clearly explain the material. Being prepared will help ensure that you are comfortable and ready to present, resulting in a presentation that you will feel good about afterwards.
Your first presentation will teach you a lot about presenting! Take note about what worked and didn't work for you and your audience. Don't shove your presentation into a drawer after it is over, but look for the next opportunity to share and build upon your success. Don't get out the bug spray, as the presentation bug is one bug you'll want to catch!