If you’ve been asked to speak at a conference, take it as a sign that you’re doing something right. You have distinguished yourself in some way in your industry and among your peers. Now the conference organizers want you to share your expertise with a captive audience.
Addressing a topic I’m passionate about comes pretty naturally to me. It certainly makes standing in front of a room full of people far less intimidating than it could be. Thankfully, I rarely have to use tricks like imagining my audience in their underwear!
Still, I want to deliver the best presentation I can to avoid embarrassing myself or my company, and I’m sure you do, too. Like pitching a product or service to a client, you’re pitching the crowd, so you want to make it good. Here are four tips you can use for speaking at conferences to accomplish that goal.
1. Be a Scout
Regardless of how familiar you are with your topic, it’s not a good idea to just wing it. Remember, you’re being offered an opportunity to demonstrate your authority. Don’t blow it by failing to prepare.
To the extent that you can, find out who’s going to be in the audience so you can frame the topic appropriately for them. And if you’re reusing a presentation, make sure to update anything that requires it. Once you develop your presentation, rehearse the full speech until you’re completely comfortable with it. I use rehearsals to rewrite anything that feels awkward and to tweak the timing and content of my slides or video.
Envision yourself delivering your presentation on that day, considering important details. Those can run the gamut from what you wear—something professional but comfortable—to having a bottle of water onstage to wet your whistle when you need to.
If you’re a list maker, create one, ticking off every item as you go. The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be. And trust me, that preparation will show as soon as you begin.
2. Work the Audience
We’ve all been in classes where the professor talked at us and—hopefully—also in classes where the professor engaged us in the lesson at hand. I’m guessing that, like me, you got far more out of the latter than the former.
That’s why you need to be the engager. Look at the people in the room. Smile. Wave to those you know so that they’ll see you know they’re there. Before you speak your first word, you’ll be putting your audience at ease.
Make your first words a greeting. And while you’re at it, do a sound check to make sure everyone can hear you and see the screen if you’re using one. Start by asking the audience a question or two without putting anyone on the spot. You can also use that interrogatory intervention anytime you feel like you might be losing your audience during your presentation.
It’s true that you’re giving a speech, not having a chat. But a little back-and-forth will keep your audience members engaged with what you’re talking about. That might be all it takes to have them hanging on your every word.
3. Insert a Little Disruption
The company you own or work for may or may not be an industry disrupter. If being one were that easy, the terminology would have to change. Still, delivering a conference presentation is one place you can use some innovation to demonstrate your authority.
Begin with the visuals for your presentation. The best way to avoid the dreaded death by PowerPoint is to make sure your slide deck is actually interesting to look at. Creative use of images, video clips, sound and movement will keep the audience from getting up and walking out. If all you’re doing is reading what’s on the slide, they’ll go have a cocktail in the hotel bar and read the handout themselves.
Use disruption in the content itself. Tell stories. Incorporate inventive examples to explain complex topics. And while you’ll want to sprinkle references to your brand throughout your presentation, cite your competitors when something they’ve done illustrates your point.
Conference attendees have an immense amount of information thrown at them in a short amount of time. Do what you can in your presentation to shake things up a little. They’ll remember what they learned from you and how much more enjoyable it was to do so.
4. Leave a Lasting Impression
If you don’t use your conference speaking spot to build your brand reputation, industry authority and client base, you’re missing the boat. You can’t just give the audience something while they’re in the room. You need to give them something to take with them when they go.
Approach your presentation like a growth marketing opportunity. The conference conveners have already put a roomful of prospects into the top of your funnel. You want them to go back to their workplaces as ambassadors of your brand, even if they aren’t customers or clients.
That audience engagement from the stage I mentioned previously will help you achieve this. Consider leaving significant time for the Q&A and have a few questions to lead with if attendees are shy about raising their hands. For example, “So, is anyone wondering why I didn’t talk about [topic] today?” Don’t forget to take a few notes about questions you might want to work into your next presentation.
Hang around after you’re done to meet and greet individuals, exchange business cards and answer a few more questions. Network during breaks, meals, receptions and in the exhibit hall. Those types of connections will make you, your brand and your message memorable and move your audience to the bottom of the funnel.
Making It Look Easy
If delivering thought-provoking and unforgettable presentations is your goal, using these tips can help get you there. Fully embrace the idea that you know what you’re talking about. Then take a deep breath and give your audience something to talk about.