Do you have to make presentations at conferences? Back when I was an engineer, I’d sometimes have to go to conferences to present my work. After doing several of these presentations, I realized that not every presenter placed much thought into their presentation – myself included. They just put their data on PowerPoint slides and read through the slides. Many in the audience didn’t pay attention, evidenced by audience members playing on their phones, talking to friends seated nearby, and even staring into space (maybe I’m the only culprit of the last one). Can you imagine how more effective conference presentations could be if the presenters kept their audience in mind when presenting?
Here are some tips on how to present at a conference:
- Add something unexpected to the presentation
- Practice beforehand
- Anticipate questions
It’s not uncommon for there to be one hour of uninterrupted presentations at conferences. That’s a lot of attention to pay! A way to make presentations more interesting is to include something that people don’t see coming. Perhaps a funny quote or picture as a sojourn from all the graphs and tables. Getting people to laugh will make them more likely to pay attention to the drier stuff. If they find your data laughable, though, that’s an entirely different issue…
Presentations at conferences are often timed. You’d be surprised at how often people go over time, likely because they didn’t practice beforehand. Always time the presentation, aiming for the middle of the time range. For instance, if the range is 8 to 10 minutes, aim for 9 minutes. No one appreciates a speech that runs over time. People stop listening out of annoyance. And people ask questions that were answered during the speech because they stopped listening out of annoyance. Avoid annoyance.
I always squirm when I see presenters get questions they don’t know how to answer. It’s uncomfortable for everyone, I’m sure. Presenters should really take time thinking up questions that they could get. They know the blind spots of their research. They should anticipate that people in the audience will pick at those blind spots. Have answers ready to address them. Do it for my sake. I don’t like to squirm!
Now if there was only a way to get every presenter at every conference I’ve ever attended to read this blog post…