Presenting conference presentations is an exciting, challenging and rewarding experience. When done right you will learn and your colleagues will benefit. Here’s a start to finish guide to assist you towards success.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO PRESENT?
• Presenting at conferences forces you to look closely at the information you are going to offer. You must fully understand it and must put it to the challenge of questions. The process is likely to help you gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and materials involved.
• You have an obligation to your profession. You learn from your colleagues daily and you benefit from those who write and present in your field. You need to give something back.
• Presentation preparation provides you with an opportunity to work closely with other professionals and mentors to explore an issue that is outside of your day to day work load. It is an excellent opportunity to listen to others who will advise you, be they RAs, faculty members or vice presidents. You can build strong professional relationships.
Seasoned professionals can give and take by offering less experienced people in the field an opportunity to co-present. By doing so both parties win. The seasoned person gains perspective as they work on an equal level with a younger colleague and the less experienced person gain the experience of exploring an idea in depth, presenting and working as a peer with the seasoned person.
THINK BEFORE YOU PROPOSE
• Focus your first thoughts on the audience. Can I make what I have to offer of value to others?
• What are the four or five “substance points” upon which I will build the program? What is important for attendees to take from the presentation? Use these as the basis for your program description/abstract.
• What is your purpose for presenting? Do you want to inform, invite discussion of an issue/idea, challenge to action, etc?
• Do I have the discipline needed to prepare? You owe it to the sponsoring organization and those who attend the presentation to be well prepared. Read the remainder of this article for an over-view of what it may entail.
• What format works best for getting the “substance points” across? Options include a presentation followed by questions, a group participation experience, a lecture and a combination approach. Each type has its place. Choose the approach based on the best way to get to your points. Include your format in your abstract.
• Should I team up with others? Make this decision from the eyes of your audience. Will adding someone improve the quality of the presentation? Is the right person available?
• Follow proposal instructions making life easier for the selectors. Do not however skimp on attachments as FYIs. Outline handouts you plan, include details of your approach, provide research materials related to the importance of your topic, etc. Let the selectors know that you are ready and able to follow through. One of their big worries is presenters who drop out after acceptance. That makes their jobs hard.
WHAT IF IT GETS ACCEPTED?
Congratulations! Now the real work begins. Approach it with joy. The rewards are great!
• Review materials sent informing you of acceptance. You are likely to be asked the type of room arrangement needed and audio/visual equipment needed. Give this careful thought. Equipment if expensive. Review your proposal as a guide to answering these questions.
• Confirm the participation of any co-presenters and complete any requested confirmations from the sponsoring organization and return by the stated deadline. Thank the people that helped you get this far.
• Make a project calendar planing out your preparation steps allowing for completion one to one and one half weeks prior to the actual presentation. Be realistic knowing that life goes on and interruptions to your plan are normal. Make adjustments whenever an interruption pushes you off track.
• Read and talk to others. Learn as much about your topic and related issues as possible.
• Answer the question, “So what?” If you are planning to offer a “show and tell” presentation explaining a project or program be certain to address outcomes. It you are reporting on a study, a new approach to training, or nearly any topic, be sure to present outcome information. Without an indication of outcomes your audience is left without substance.
• Develop a list of goals for your presentation. List the things you would like participants to learn from you and how you would like them to feel during the presentation. Keep these in mind as you develop your program.
• Outline your presentation approach and any handouts you plan to provide. Do this early to force yourself to think through what you are doing. Be certain that it focuses on your “substance points”.
• If you plan to use copyrighted or other materials that require permission contact the creator early.
• Consider the flow or your outline. Put your feet in the shoes of your audience. Work to balance out substance and performance. Too much substance can deaden an audience. A great performance without substance is just that!
• Add substance to your presentation outline. Write it out more completely. Include notes on what you will actually say in each sub-section of the program. Note the estimated time for each section, including group discussion periods. Add the total at the end.
• Draft PowerPoints and tighten handouts you plan to use.
• Talk the presentation through with other people who will give you an honest reaction. You do not need praise at this point. You need the truth. Review section by section and ask for ideas and reactions. Listen and ask questions about their perspectives.
• Re-work your outline, overheads and handouts based on what you have learned. This time write out what you plan to actually say. Do not worry about time or getting every word right. This exercise allows you to test how things fit in the time frame provided and forces you to think it through very specifically. Read it aloud at least twice placing check marks where you want to make improvements. Do not stop to make improvements at this point.
IMPORTANT NOTE: All of the points listed above can be done in a few hours. Starting early and spreading the hours out helps.
• Make corrections to all materials aiming at final drafts.
• Try out your presentation on friends telling them you need honest reaction rather than false re-enforcement. When you finish listen carefully and probe suggestions. Now think through the comments and act on those of substance. Let your own head be your guide at this point.
• Unless you are making a prepared speech that you will read shrink your detailed outline back to a basic outline. By now you should know the content well enough to operate from notes rather than read text.
• Practice the entire presentation two or three times. Once you start keep going except for making check marks on your notes where you many wish to make revisions. It is important to time yourself.
• Set it all aside for a few days then run through it a few times prior to the actual presentation.
• Finalize PowerPoint and handouts and have them printed.
• On the day of the presentation give your outline a brief review and settle back to enjoy your presentation.
THE BIG DAY
1. On the big day check out the room early to get a feel for the space in which you will be working. Just prior to the presentation check your AV equipment and set your materials in the order they will be presented.
2. As people begin to arrive introduce yourself individually. This will help you feel more relaxed. Meeting people individually is an easy way to start a relationship that will continue into the presentation.
3. Start on time, keep eye contact with your audience and remember the presentation is about meeting their needs.
4. Review your presentation goals and give your audience an outline of how the time will be used. Now offer your presentation with confidence.
5. If an evaluation form is available ask participants to give you feedback. If one is not provided ask each person to jot done one of two things they learned and identify two strong points of the presentation and one suggestion for improvement.
6. Prior to reviewing participant comments make your own list of strong and weak points. Wait an hour before reviewing the evaluations/comments. Make notes for improving presentations in the future and take a bow whenever you get a compliment.
• Save your materials and outline for future review.
• Thank the people who helped you.
• Begin looking for your next opportunity to share your understanding of our profession.
Submitted by David Butler, Retired
Note: The David G. Butler Award is awarded annually to recognize distinguished service in the MACUHO region.