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April 23, 2004

How to Talk at Conferences, Continued

Following Michael's and Jessamyn's threads:

1. Before the talk, try to communicate directly with the technology people who will configure your setup. Mention these folks during your talk, and thank them afterwards. They will remember you. And they are the reason people can hear your voice and see your presentation.

2. Label any equipment you bring to the podium. I use tiny Hello Kitty stickers. It doesn't matter what you use: the objective is to be able to immediately distinguish your cords from those of your co-panelists or cords that are attached to local equipment.

3. I always ask for a lavalier mike, or at least one that isn't fixed to a podium. I like to walk and point, and you can't SEE me behind a podium, anyway.

4. Ask someone to be your timeclock, and request that they give you several warnings before your talk is up. You will be too engaged to look at a watch, and ten minutes is enough time to adjust your talk, if you have underestimated how long it will take to speak.

5. If you are on a panel with someone going way over their time, hand them a very large note. People often don't realize when they've busted their time limit, and you are entitled to your slice of the action. It's only fair to you, to the audience, and to the people who invited you (and probably paid for you to be there).

6. I am not sure what Michael and Jessamyn mean by "self-promotion," but if you've published a book, had a baby, or just figured out a cure for cancer, it's my advice to go ahead and brag. The audience will enjoy your excitement, partticularly if you don't go overboard. Try sharing a human moment about the experience, and it's o.k. to make fun of yourself--"I ate Stouffers' for six months while I finished this book."

7. Wear something nice. However, wear something you've worn before, so you're comfortable in it.

8. Praise your audience. (They were smart enough to attend your session, after all.)

9. Consider going post-Powerpoint during the presentation. Ask yourself if your lengthy pile of slides with bullets serves any purpose. By all means, do not show up and read from your slides. Increasingly, I am doing talks "unplugged," using Powerpoint primarily to make impressionistic or humorous visuals during the talk (and it's a great way to provide your contact information at the end). But if your talk consists of reading slides, think about using Powerpoint as a visual backdrop, then use your Powerpoint "notes" as an internal planning tool, to practice what you have to say. You have a story: what is it? How will you share it?

10. Of course, you may be using real-world examples from the Web, in which case, have good screen captures as a backup.

11. If it's a choice between my computer and theirs, I always pick theirs, because it's equipment they are familiar with. I bring mine anyway.

12. Remember the first rule? No matter who you are dealing with, never, ever assume the technology is "taken care of." Find out what the setup is, find out who your point of contact is, and if you have to be a nudge, be a nudge, however nicely. The talk you save could be your own. A couple of years ago, I had a presentation that crashed and burned because I assumed that the tech-oriented person arranging the talk had coordinated the technology. This person, in turn, had also simply "assumed." We were both wrong, and it was very painful (and a huge waste of our time). Your assertive engagement on this particular issue will go a long way toward a happy outcome for all involved.

Posted by kgs at April 23, 2004 10:51 AM

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WOW! Rock On Karen... these are GREAT!

Posted by: Michael Stephens at April 23, 2004 11:23 AM

Great advice! I especially liked the points you made about powerpoint presentations. Nothing drives me more crazy than someone just reading their slides. They should just hand out a copy of their slides and let everyone read quietly.

Posted by: Emily McElroy at April 23, 2004 12:22 PM

cool -- yes, setting up tech beforehand is key key key. I have been refining my powerpoint-emulating CSS stylesheet so that I can drop presentations directly to my website. Powerpoint can be helpful, but avoiding it can save space and effort. However, I have noticed that some podium-laptop setups are *only* used to Powerpoint so there can be some delay when you say "oh, I only need a browser"

Posted by: jessamyn at April 23, 2004 01:26 PM

I'm still fuzzy on the self-promotion concept. I think it's okay to give humorous personal mentions of a sort ("My cat likes to watch me blog...he particularly likes the political pieces.") but what I hate is when presenters go off on an "Everything I do is awesome" binge ("As you can see on MY blog, I do this." or "My latest book, X, which you can buy for $29.99 on Amazon discusses this topic in much greater detail.") I don't know...something always rubs me the wrong way when people highlight all the reasons they are qualified to be giving the presentation (almost like they think maybe they aren't). What I like better is when I go to a great presentation, no self-promotion included, and then find out later that this person's site is amazing, or (s)he is the President of LITA or something. Leave the resumes at the doors folks.

Posted by: Sarah Houghton at April 23, 2004 03:10 PM

Definitely not "everything I do is awesome," but it's o.k. to tout your expertise in the area you're discussing, as long as you're not obnoxious about it. As for pushing books... well, publishers do so little to market books that writers need these marketing opportunities. Perhaps working it into the talk without making it a Shopping Channel Moment is the key.

Posted by: K.G. Schneider at April 23, 2004 03:19 PM

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