As summer winds to a close, I find myself looking back at the presentations I gave over the past few months. In June alone, I gave nearly 20 different presentations: keynotes in large rooms (sometimes during lunch), seminar presentations in small hotel conference rooms, webinars, panel discussions, and numerous small group meetings and consultations.
Some of my reflections led me to think of ways I could improve my content, my design approach, or my presentation methods. Aside from designing and preparing each presentation, there were a few challenges that seemed to repeat themselves. So, I thought I’d share just 4 of those challenges to maybe help you better prepare for your next talk.
- Arrive early. I can’t stress this enough. Just get there early. At least twice, I was told I could use my own computer (which I prefer to do because I use some custom fonts, sometimes video, and I like to maintain ownership of my slides), but when I arrived at the conference site, they were either not prepared to hook up my computer or they couldn’t get the hook-up to work (note to conference organizers: do a little background check on you’re A/V staff). It took some time to transfer files from one computer to another and then make sure everything looked okay. In another instance, the projector cord had gone missing, so we had to run down the street to buy a new one. If you get there early and the room is great and the tech works fine, you can chat with members of your audience, roam the conference site (maybe pick up some swag), check email, or just read a book. But better to get there early and address any logistic or tech challenges that are bound to arise.
- Buy multiple adapters. A/V technology is changing quickly, moving from analog to digital. I now have 4 different adapters for my Mac. Adapters are not that expensive, so load up.
- Bring something to eat. At one presentation, I was scheduled to give the post-lunch keynote address. Lunch was served table-by-table, so lunch arrived at my table as was being introduced. It was a hungry 60 minutes. Pack a small snack in case you don’t have time to eat.
- Practice your introductions. You may have heard me urge you to practice your presentation. And practice some more. But if you’re introducing the speaker or moderating a session, be sure to practice your introductions. Learn how to pronounce the speaker’s name (no, my last name is not pronounced “Schwashberg”), know the speaker’s affiliation, and maybe what they are going to talk about. This will make you look better in front of your audience and show your speaker(s) the respect they deserve.
As much as it’s on the speaker to adequately prepare and give a great talk, conference organizers also have responsibilities. If you’re inviting someone to speak at your conference or group, please try to keep in mind (at least) these 4 things:
- Your speaker’s time is valuable. Perhaps you’ve been burned before—the speaker didn’t show up or they showed up late, or maybe they just gave a lousy presentation. I get that; you want to have a great event and you want your attendees to love your speaker. But please don’t ask your speaker to jump on 40 different calls with you every day for the two weeks prior to the event. Your conference is probably not the speaker’s only responsibility, so respect their time. Gather your questions, what you want the speaker to do, what support you’ll offer, and have a call or two to get everything organized.
- Let your speaker attend your conference for free. Sure, you might not have a budget for a speaking fee, but the speaker has agreed to come to your event because you’re a friend or you’re doing good work or maybe she wants to test out some new material. But if you’re charging attendees $700, $800, $1,000 to attend your conference, you can afford to let the speaker attend the whole conference (and not just their session) for free. The marginal cost of an additional attendee is essentially the price of lunch, which I’m pretty certain you can afford. More importantly, if your speaker is really good and she’s roaming the halls for an extra day or two, that’s good for your other attendees who can chat with her and ask more questions.
- Understand that your speaker may want to use her own computer. Look, I use a non-standard font. Sometimes I have video. Sometimes the file sizes are over 100MB. And, to be honest, the moment I send you my slides is the moment I lose control over who has the file. So understand that your speaker may want to use his own computer, and try as best you can to accommodate that request. You’ve invited this person to speak to your group; requiring that the speaker give you her slides is really not a necessary part of the agreement unless the technology absolutely dictates it. Yes, there are times when having everything on a single computer can be easier or faster, but I have seen far too many instances where it’s clear the organizer just wants to have the slides on their machine.
- Learn how to install fonts. If your speaker agrees to send along her slides and is using custom fonts, learn how to install them on your computer. And test the slides beforehand for the speaker. Maybe ask the speaker to also send a PDF so you can make sure the presentation file has transferred making a mess of the slides.
Giving a great presentation has all sorts of challenges. When it comes time to actually give your presentation, make it easier on yourself—arrive early and be prepared. Talk with your host to make sure you agree on the technology and timing. The most important thing about your presentation is your content. That’s why you’ve been invited to speak and that’s why people are (hopefully) paying attention to you. By taking care of these little things, you can focus on your content and your delivery and therefore help your audience do the same.