Surprisingly, considering the time and effort that goes into everything else, a conference really is just a series of sequential presentations designed to fulfil a specific objective (for more on this read parts one and two). Now as nerdy as that sounds - I was actually embarrassed writing it - it's the truth. So in this, the third and final article in the "your conference sucks" series, I'm going to focus on the sad bastard that is "the PowerPoint presentation".
I'm a big fan of visual aids in presentations; I believe they have the potential to vastly increase the amount that your audience remembers when they leave. Luckily, any idiot can put together a presentation in minutes. Sadly, many do, which incidentally is why I'm in business in the first place.
However, assuming that you'd like to try the DIY route before calling Missing Link, here're a few tips for you:
Your visual aids are neither a cue card, nor a hand out.
The first mistake people make is they develop their visuals the same way that they made those wee cue cards when they were doing their English oral exam at school. Here's a thought: it's easier for people to read ahead than it is for them to listen - if your slides are cue cards for you, well, then they're cue cards for the audience too, rendering you immediately redundant. Not a great place for a speaker to be.
At this point I want to address the conference organisers out there. If you're asking your speakers to give their slide decks to you beforehand to be compiled into handouts, you're murdering your conference. Far better would be to ask them to write you a short summary of the key points that you can include in the delegate packs.
The rule is this: any slide that can be understood without the explanation of the speaker has too much information on it.
When designing your slides, try just to include words and images that will help your audience recall your data later, as opposed to helping them read along now. We're not writing kids books here, people.
Remember, you are the message - not your slides. And no excuses, please; there's no such thing as a boring topic. Find anecdotes, use video clips, be engaging and most definitely be yourself.
My second suggestion is to do with timing.
How long should your preso be? For this, try shoot for the Goldilocks target. Not too long, not too short - just right.
If anything, err on the short side; it's far better to leave people wanting more than to have them wishing you'd shut up. The organisers of TED believe that no message should be delivered in longer than 18-minutes. Maybe they're wrong, but it's not a bad place to start.
Finally, there's your delivery on the day.
The best advice I can give you on that topic is this - make sure you enjoy delivering your message more than you'd expect your audience to enjoy hearing it. If you're hating standing in front of them, I can guarantee that they're hating the experience even more - that's assuming they're still awake.
Oh, and the best way to ensure that you enjoy presenting is to do the prep work beforehand. When you're presenting, blind dates aren't a whole heap of fun.
In closing, if you're the conference organiser, set some guidelines for your speakers; boundaries help. Point them in the direction of some online tutorials [better still, give 'em my number] and remind them that while content may very well be king, delivery is the ace in the sleeve.
Richard Mulholland is the founder of Missing Link (www.missinglink.co.za), a specialist conference and presentation strategy company. Rich's dynamic way of thinking took him from rigging lights at rock concerts to telling CEOs what and how they should present. A renowned speaker, strategist, creative thinker and capitalist punk, Rich is the guy you hire to make your presentation or conference rock. Email him on and follow him on Twitter at @RichMulholland and Missing Link at @presorockgods.
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