Let's be honest; preparing and delivering any conference presentation is hard work, let alone delivering one that is a compelling and engaging. There are so many factors to consider and very few get it right. Here's what we've found are the 5 must-haves whether you're the speaker, or the organiser doing the inviting and vetting:
Domain expertise is the bare minimum for anyone called upon to share their ideas at a conference. The “casual tourist” to a topic will be quickly found out, diminishing both their reputation and that of the conference.
No one should be holding the mic unless they’ve been thoroughly vetted, but we advocate going one step further and requesting presenters to submit their subject matter for review far in advance (we know this can the stuff of unicorns and fairy tales, but a 'fake deadline' usually helps!). We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve seen a person present what is either a blatant sales pitch or something completely irrelevant for the intended session, and the overall objective of the event. As conference stagers, we owe it to our audiences to do better.
To be fair, even a domain expert knows there is no such thing as being an “expert” - because every person/situation/company is unique. Instead, they realise the true benefit they bring is in creating a conversation that encourages idea-sharing amongst participants - to help shape something new and valuable in the process.
Just knowing a topic isn’t enough. There’s also the need to care deeply about its impact and how it can improve a function, business, industry, the world. You know the type – their eyes light up and they literally exude excitement when you invite a discussion about their field of interest.
Such people aren’t hard to find – they’re usually the ones joining or even leading the conversation in their given field of interest. A few conversations and some basic online (or offline!) research should reveal who they are.
Moreover, they’re the ones whose interest in the subject is generally contagious – leading others to question their own views and have their minds expanded, resulting in the next point…
Beyond just sharing experience and anecdotes, an impassioned conference presenter looks to affect and even drive change. They do this through the generous sharing of their ideas, not to be duplicated verbatim, but to spark participants’ imagination and encourage experimentation.
To do this, they need to be both knowledgeable and passionate, but when these two elements are present and there’s a real desire to help improve a situation, change will happen!
Here we get into the detail around how a good presenter, well, presents. Definitely no reading off a PowerPoint! Instead it’s about engaging audiences and inviting, or even demanding, their contribution – which encourages the sharing of ideas and debating of issues for the benefit of all participants.
This requires skill to be sure, but it’s trainable, meaning anyone can do it with a bit of guidance and practice. Research anyone who’s done a TED Talk and you’ll uncover they’ve spent hours preparing for their big day.
Speaking of which, there’s very little original content that isn’t already available online. But take a subject and invite an audience to share their experiences, and true magic can happen. A room of people with unique circumstances equals a room full of potential new ways for everyone to tackle a problem or have their imagination ignited.
As already noted, no one person has a perfect understanding of a particular subject, so there’s an amazing opportunity for the intellectually curious presenter to expand their own knowledge as well.
It’s well known that indelible memories are formed when a moment of joy is experienced. And a conference should be no exception to that rule. Moreover, like we discussed in a
recent post, where does it say a conference should be serious and stuffy? How does that lead to better outcomes?
In our experience it does the opposite. If participants aren’t enjoying themselves, they will invariably seek other stimuli (often their inbox on their mobile), and thereby lose focus on the matter at hand.
Instead we advocate injecting moments of fun into a programme to keep participants engaged and enjoying themselves! Sure, it’s easy to say but hard to actually execute; and there’s a fine line between fun and cringeworthy. But it’s not a difficult task if you understand the profile of your attendees and can link that to exercises and elements within the programme that will surprise and delight, if only because it’s unexpected.
This sort of thing is particularly fun to do in traditionally stoic industries, as it tends to remove tension and any barriers in the room and it almost always results in a much better perception of the event overall!
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