How to Be a Successful Speaker at a Conference: Advice from the Experts

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Melissa Fach
Melissa Fach
How to Be a Successful Speaker at a Conference: Advice from the Experts

It is a big step to speak at a search conference, and nerves always come with public speaking. However, getting suggestions from those who organize some of the biggest search conferences can lessen your stress. I asked Brett Tabke and Matt McGowan for some suggestions and tips that might help you when you decide to speak at your first conference.

Brett Tabke – Founder of Pubcon

Learn more about Pubcon and Brett on LinkedIn. Follow him on Twitter @Btabke.

3 Tips on Creating a Successful Presentation

  1. Limit the scope. Too broad a topic loses attendees’ interest.
  2. Data, data, data in visualized form. Cases studies with pretty charts and graphs hold people’s attention.
  3. The visuals are an aid and not the main part of your presentation. You are the centerpiece of your presentation. Too many speakers hide behind their PowerPoint and don’t get out in front of it. Attendees are there to hear your story, not to see your graphic skills.

3 Suggestions on Preparing/Practicing for Your Presentation

  1. Once you have completed your presentation, then stand in front of a table or desk and mimic the presentation environment as much as possible. Don’t sit at your desk to practice anything but individual slides. By working in a “Real World” environment, you minimize problems and put your mind much more at ease. Remember, the focus is on your presentation and your ability to communicate it, not on the slides. I bought a podium so our people could practice presentations in as close as possible to a session environment.
  2. Keep a notebook next to your presentation, and note problem areas in your slides. Try not to stop and restart your presentation when practicing. Always try to practice the full presentation from start to finish. The problem areas will start to stand out, and you can then go back and tweak the content or the slides that are giving you issues. Continue to power through your presentation from start to finish.
  3. Video record your presentation after you have practiced it all the way through at least three times. It is hard to watch the mistakes, but there is so much to learn from watching yourself. Everyone will be different, but you will notice fresh stuff every time you watch it. Once you are comfortable watching yourself, you will start to feel much more at ease about trouble spots and know where your “best stuff” is.

3 Musts for the Day of Your Presentation

  1. Get up early and practice.
  2. Visit the session room before the presentation, and look for tech issues and/or audience issues. For example, I walked into a session all ready to use my fancy remote presentation clicker, only to find we were using the hosts MacBook Pro, and he had converted my slides to Keynote the week before. I was really out of sorts over it and didn’t get into the flow until my presentation was almost done. Had I read the fine print in the session prep memo, I would have known what the equipment would be going in to the session, and I would have been prepared.
  3. Recruit. Earlier in the day, remind everyone you are talking to that you have a session at XYZ and invite them to come see it. Some of the best speakers that I know heavily recruit people. Many will do blog posts before the event to promote their sessions.

Tips for the Presentation Itself

There is a wide range of tactics and strategies. It is going to come down to using what you are comfortable with in the session setting. I have seen people read their slides verbatim and turn out a great presentation. I have also seen others with nothing but big flashy pictures who regale the audience with stories and funny anecdotes. In the end, the value of the presentation comes down to the experience of the speaker. The best speakers are those who cause us to have a visceral response. Those speakers use the format that fits their personality the best. By putting their own personal stamp on the images, they are able to convey content substance that attendees can take home and put to good use.

Suggestions on Things Speakers Should Avoid

I hear the “I was up until 3am working on my presentation” line at almost every major conference I attend. Invariably, those people that do that and those that try to “phone it in,” are under some serious self-delusion about the quality of their presentations. You have to put in the time to get a quality presentation. Even one of the best presenters I have ever seen (Guy Kawasaki) puts in hundreds of hours on every presentation.

Upcoming Pubcon Event

The Pubcon Conference in Las Vegas is from October 15-18th. Both Loren Baker and I will be speaking at Pubcon, so please come up and say hello.

Matt McGowan – SES Conferences

Learn more about SES Conferences and Matt on Linkedin and SEW. Follow him on Twitter @matt_mcgowan.

Recommendations on Pitching a Session

How much money do you have? HA! Just kidding. Be flexible and unique. Moreover, ensure your work experience is relevant to the topic you would like to speak about. (We will do a background check on you.) The spray and pray method does not work, but, unfortunately, many still try it. More on pitches and speaking here.

3 Tips on Creating a Successful Presentation

  1. Don’t copy your colleagues. We all have access to SlideShare.
  2. Don’t write in full sentences. Keep your points succinct.
  3. Stay on topic.

3 Suggestions on Preparing/Practicing for Your Presentation

  1. Practice in front of a mirror or record yourself. Even better ask a colleague or two to listen. Your presentation will improve significantly each and every time you practice. Although the improvement delta often diminishes each time, it is still worth it.
  2. Ensure you can do the entire presentation within the allocated time; shorter is better than longer.
  3. Get a good night’s sleep the day before.

3 Musts for the Day of Your Presentation

  1. Confidence in your material.
  2. Lots of rest.
  3. A smile – it goes a long way.

Tips for the Presentation Itself

  1. Be prepared. Ask the audience a few questions early on to get to know them. Adapt your presentation, including which points you will skip quickly over and which you will spend more time on, based on their answers.
  2. Think outside .ppt.
  3. Wrap up with at least three take-a-ways.

Suggestions on Things Speakers Should Avoid

Do not read your presentation to the audience, especially if you are using .ppt. It is the quickest way to lose their attention as they can read just fine.

Other Tips

The vast majority of strong presenters are strong because they have had a lot of practice. The best ones have spoken hundreds of times. Don’t make a professional industry event like Pubcon or SES your first speaking gig.

Upcoming SES Event

SES San Francisco is from August 13-17th. If you would like to attend and have not bought a ticket yet, Matt gave us a  20% off discount code: 20SEJ.

Loren Baker will be speaking at SES in San Fran, so go up and say, “Hi, Melissa sent me.” 😉

Excellent Advice!

I am not going to break down the advice given, the similarities, or even point out the same advice given by both Brett and Matt because I want you to go through the advice again, several times, and read it closely. These two men have set up and run many successful conferences, and they know what makes a “successful speaker.” Their advice is priceless.

Thank you, Brett and Matt, for taking the time to answer my questions. I know you both are very busy, and I really appreciate your time.

Melissa Fach

Melissa Fach

Melissa is a Social Media and marketing consultant and the owner of SEO Aware, LLC. Melissa uses her psychology background ... [Read full bio]