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Don’t Just Stand Up, Stand Out: Conference Presentations that Captivate the Room

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You stand up in front of a conference breakout session, and you’ve got about 30 seconds to convince them that this one is going to be different, that this presentation is going to be engaging, worthwhile, and memorable. Are you hitting that mark? Or are you wasting a golden opportunity to make a great impression and motivate people to action?

Conference presentations are about more than just the respect of your peers; increasing, they are part of a broad sales enablement strategy that includes presentations at targeted conferences. Presentations get you in front of the right people and attract them to your booth in between sessions. To maximize the benefit from your moment in the spotlight, you need to stand out from the crowd.

When I coach clients for conference presentations, we often target three areas in the development phase to get the biggest return on our efforts:

  • A strong start
  • Captivating visuals
  • A motivating end

Improving these sections will turn a potential mine field into a gold mine for audience connection and commitment.

A Strong Start

Those first 30 seconds are critical, and I see speakers wasting them over and over by rehearsing their resume. If there is something we need to know about you and your experience, put it in the program or event app! You can even ask to have it included in your introduction, but don’t start out by telling us who you are and what you’ve done! Believe me, it won’t add to your credibility. What will impress your audience is seeing that you get them—you know the need that brought them to this room, and you’re going to meet that need.

One effective way to start out is by telling a story. This story will accomplish a couple of things; it will show your audience you belong here, that they can give the next 45 minutes of their life to you, and it won’t be a waste. The story establishes your credibility by showing you understand their problem, and it sets up the solution. It’s also a great way for you to overcome nervousness; telling a story, especially one you know well and enjoy, gets you off to a comfortable start and immediately creates an important connection between you and the audience.

One of my clients began a presentation by telling about a texting conversation her middle-school son had with a girl who was obviously interested in having him become her boyfriend. The story was fun and engaging, and it perfectly set up her main point: the girl used technology (her phone) to get what she wanted at the moment she wanted it (a boyfriend in time for Valentine’s Day) just as a sales rep can use a performance support app on a mobile device to get necessary information at the moment it’s needed.

That introduction was so different from any other presentation that day, and the follow-up content and examples so perfectly fit her initial promise of showing how a performance support app could meet the audience’s needs, that her booth was mobbed at the next break. Her strong start accomplished everything necessary by establishing her understanding of the audience’s need and assuring them that her content would be valuable and her delivery enjoyable.

Captivating Visuals

After an engaging start, don’t disconnect from the audience by turning their attention to a mind-numbing series of text-heavy, bullet-pointed slides. PowerPoint and other presentation software are effective when they are used as visual aids, not as printed material for visual learners to be able to read. When you have text-heavy slides, reading the slides at the same time as hearing you speak creates cognitive dissonance in your audience’s minds, and they remember and understand less.

Instead, design slides that are primarily images—pictures combined with narration is the most memorable way to use PowerPoint. The pictures should tell a story or reinforce a main point (don’t make the mistake of believing you have to have a slide up all the time. Go to a black screen, bring the audience’s attention back to you, and only show a slide when you want to use a powerful image to reinforce a main point.)

A skilled presenter at a training conference used a picture of an enormous tree fallen across a road to transition to the “obstacle” part of his presentation. That picture was up while he talked about various obstacles and how to overcome them. I remember his points because they were tied to such a powerful image that told a story.

A Motivating End

I attended a graduation ceremony a few years ago where the keynote speaker gave some unusually useful advice to the graduates. He outlined a plan of action for the next few years, suggested options, and created some interest and excitement around his ideas. It was a small group, and he could easily have handed out 3×5 cards for the graduates to set some goals around his suggestions. But he didn’t, and in the excitement of the following celebration, I doubt any of the graduating seniors remembered his speech. With one small piece of paper, he could have upgraded his speech from one that generated lots of nods and momentary agreement to one that changed lives.

Most business presentations are persuasive rather than just informative. If you merely want to inform, send an email. If you have an audience in front of you, use the privilege of the platform to invite them to act on your information, to change their behavior, to adopt your solution. If people are interested and excited about your ideas, don’t let that excitement drain away during the next presentation or break. Invite them to plan an action step before they leave the room. They can put a reminder on the to-do list in their phone, or set an appointment in their calendar to follow-up, or take two minutes to turn and talk to the person next to them about how an idea could be adapted to their specific workplace. Give them an opportunity to think through a way to implement your great ideas, and you are on your way to making a real difference. Of course, one easy action step would be to come talk to you sometime during the conference and make an appointment for a demo!

A conference presentation is an excellent forum to share valuable ideas and introduce yourself in a positive way to potential clients. Don’t waste that opportunity by fading into the crowd; stand up and stand out.

How do you create a strong presentation?

Ask Praveen Prasad how she captivates an audience!


#Communication #Public Speaking #Crushing It #Conversation Starters Career Advice
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Marken Fake
Marken Fake

This was a helpful article, and I have a few tips to add. Often at technical conferences you are expected to hand over your power point presentation which will then be distributed to particpants or posted online. When I first adopted the strategies here of using blank slides and largely graphic images (as opposed to bullet point text) to make my points I was too lazy to create a second version of my presentation for publication, and as a result it was totally worthless when released to people who didn't attend my talk. Now I know that even though it takes (a lot!) more time, that the published presentation is at least (probably more) as important as the one I use in person because it will last for months or years and be passed around, continuing to speak for you. The investment in doubling up all this work really pays off! Now I start planning both presentations simultaneously and am conscious about what gets included in each. You can refer your live audience to the presentation that will be later released ("I speak more about this particular topic in my published presentation, available on the conference website from tomorrow...") so people know that it is different and worth checking out, it's like getting two audiences for the price of one. Don't forget that a good written presentation is often the key to getting invitations to other conferences, and a picture of a fallen tree isn't going to mean anything to someone who didn't hear you speak. Alternatively, you can create an atmosphere of exclusivity by letting your audience know that you are talking about something that ISN'T in your published presentation ("My boss won't let me put this in writing, so you won't find this in my official presentation slides, but I really want to share with you...").

I really enjoyed this article. The advice is great and I can't wait to put these 3 steps to practice. I just wrote a post about maximizing your conference attendance ( and this is the next step in the conversation. Thank you.

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