In this article, we’ll provide 8 top tips to help you prepare for and present at a conference in 2023.
You’ve opened your emails and there it is in front of you: “Congratulations - you’ve been chosen to present at a conference”.
Your research, hard work and dedication have paid off, and your submission has been chosen.
Now it’s time to organise your presentation.
If this is your first time, it could seem daunting, and even if you’re a seasoned professional at speaking at conferences, we’ve some handy little tips that can help you along the way.
1. Gather the facts
Before creating your presentation, find out how long you will have to present and whether this time includes a question and answer session.
Find out who your audience will be and whether you’ll be attending the event in person or virtually. Don’t forget to find out if the event will be attended in-person/hybrid/ or virtually, as this could impact your presentation.
2. Creating your presentation
Once you have the above information about the conference, you can then create your slideshow presentation accordingly.
We suggest not diving headfirst into your presentation because you are at risk of adding too much information. This results in dramatic editing to cut your slideshow down, which equals a lot of time wasted!
So what do you want to add?
First, remember your goal of the presentation, and then; outline, add detail and sequence:
- Outline - Write your key points.
- Add detail - to your key points to ensure you include all you want to portray.
- Sequence - ensure your slides follow on to the next part of your presentation coherently.
Once you know what you’ll be adding “text wise”, you can then think about the way you want your presentation to look, and this is key!
“The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.” - Lilly Walters
3. Never underestimate the importance of aesthetics
You’ll need to make the presentation look appealing and informative, so mixing the right visuals with text is vital.
Keep your presentation simple and consistent, with help from the tips below:
- The style needs to be easy on the eye, so do not write paragraphs of text; bullet points are preferable.
- Ensure the font and size are easily readable.
- Remember the four basic slide layouts of a presentation:
- Transitional slides
- A mixture of image and text slides
- Image only slides
- Text only slides
These will help with improving the flow of your presentation, and aid in separating your presentation into, e.g. objective, findings, and results.
- Make those visuals work for you. Images, pie charts, graphs etc., can sometimes portray a better point than the text itself.
- The layout is critical; readers naturally gravitate to the top left-hand corner first, so perhaps include the key information on the slide nearer the top.
- Choose a colour scheme and stick to it. Typically this can include four colours and one accent colour.
Colours are easily recognisable, so if you use your company’s or academic institution's colours, this will subtly keep who you are representing in the audience's mind (a great little marketing tip).
If you cram in too much information and want to tell your audience everything, the opposite will likely happen, and they won't remember anything.
4. Timing is everything!
Knowing how much time you have to present at the conference will be the deciding factor as to how many slides you can have on your presentation; and how you will convey your information to the audience.
If you have forty-five minutes to present, only create forty-five minutes worth of material to deliver. It sounds easy enough, but often presenters will add too much information and run out of time to present their findings.
In order to work this out, you’ll need to time yourself when you practice your presentation.
Remember to consider nerves on the day, as this may cause you to speed up your speech, meaning you get through your presentation quicker, which isn’t ideal.
When speaking quickly, your audience will not understand what you are trying to inform them of, and they’ll become unenthused.
Practise your presentation as much as you can, and ask friends/colleagues or family if they can be your ‘dummy audience” and listen to you presenting.
They’ll be able to time you and help notify you of any parts of your presenting style you may need to work on.
Don't forget to consider pauses you’ll naturally add in when speaking and time spent interacting with your audience.
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” - Michael Altshuler
5. Know your audience
One tip that often gets forgotten is knowing who you are presenting to and writing your material accordingly.
Undergraduates, for example, are unlikely to have the same expertise/knowledge as those studying for a doctorate.
Likewise, a surgeon is more likely to have an expert level of understanding than a general practitioner.
You want your audience to be fascinated, educated, and have questions of their own. You want to create a ‘buzz’ to get the audience interested and think about how they can adapt your findings into their work.
“Designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it: To Whom It May Concern.” - Ken Haemer
6. Rehearse, prepare and back up
It’s a no brainer that you’ll rehearse your presentation several times and ensure it is delivered in the best way possible and within the necessary time.
But have you thought about any props you want to use, any handouts you’d like to provide? Do you have enough of these to go around?
Technology is excellent and has made accessing everything you need so much easier, especially with the cloud. But sometimes, as with most things in life, technology can stop working. So make sure you have backed up your presentation on a USB device and send a copy to your inbox. Just to be on the safe side.
Make sure you have your outfit ready. Something smart but comfortable. If you know you become flushed in these scenarios, don’t wear thick jumpers or too many layers.
Equally, if you find when you’re nervous and play with your hair, perhaps tie it back to help prevent this as a distraction.
Let’s not forget about wearing smart but comfortable shoes; you could be standing for a long time after all.
Ensure you have all the plugs and cables you’ll need, such as laptop chargers, and don’t forget that all-important bottle of water.
7. Your body language has a more significant impact than you think
Speaking at a professional level to a room of hundreds of people is daunting. But try not to show your nerves through your body language.
You will need to avoid any hair twiddling, fiddling with your cuffs, excessive hand and arm movements, no shaking of the leg if seated and slow down the pace of your speaking.
Instead, breathe, and use open body language. Don’t cross your arms, but stand tall, with your head held high, to project your voice to the auditorium.
Insert very short pauses when speaking to give you time to collect yourself if you feel you're tensing up, help calm your mind, and allow the audience to absorb what they have just heard you say.
But most importantly, remember to breathe!
“Picture yourself in a living room having a chat with your friends. You would be relaxed and comfortable talking to them; the same applies when public speaking.” - Sir Richard Branson
8. Encourage questions and discussions
There is usually an opportunity for questions at the end of a presentation. Still it’ll make the presentation more interactive and help keep your audience engaged if you encourage a few questions and discussions during the presentation.
Even if they’re simple, closed questions.
Obviously, you do not want this to take over as you have a set time to present in, but if an audience member asks you an excellent question that you know may take a while to answer, you can always jot it down and answer it at the end.
By encouraging questions during the presentation, your audience will feel a part of the presentation and not just reactive listeners.
It will help make your presentation more enticing to the audience and get them thinking and not just sitting there nodding.
You’ll be able to gauge also, how well your audience is responding to what it is you are explaining.
Conference speaking, like any form of public speaking, can seem extremely intimidating, but if you adopt the guidance above, then this will truly help towards calming any nerves and encourage a confident manner, with an excellent presentation to boot.
All that is left to say is - GOOD LUCK!