Give and effective conference speech that holds attention

Giving an conference address

I have sat through and given a few presentations in my time so based on my experience of sitting through a conference or two I have put together a few tips:

Preparing For The Event

  • Read the proposed conference flyer and match your points to the theme. I sat through an interesting presentation the other-day that left me and the people on my table mystified as to how it fitted in the theme of the conference (it was good though).
  • The flyers can help on the direction of the content – it is always a good idea to discuss the content further with the Conference Producer before you prepare ‘it’.
  • Cicero over two thousand years ago said a good speaker learns fast and is knowledgeable and is an expert about the subject – know your subject in depth and provide evidence during your speech that you know what you are talking about.

Content

If you are speaking at a conference attracting senior-level decision-makers from across your sector ask yourself:

  • What do they want to hear?
  • What do you want to say?
  • Where does the crossover lie?

Watch out! – Presentations from speakers who dwell too long on their basic company information are always seen as crude sales pitches – and people switch off (No more than who you are and what you do please).

Be aware of the format of your session

If you are doing a presentation and are using PowerPoint:

  • Use a minimum font size of 18 – better 24+
  • Allow around three minutes per slide (remember no death by PowerPoint!).
  • The Rule of Five – ideally PowerPoint presentations should contain no more than 5 words per sentence and 5 lines per slide (actuall no words is better just a few pictures).
  • Visuals are often a great way of illustrating your presentation but ‘Keep It Simple’ – too many charts overwhelm a presentation and cannot be read at the back of the conference room.
  • Likewise, avoid over-use of PowerPoint special effects – or flash effects like zooming they distract from the presentation

If you are taking part in a panel discussion prepare:

  • The Chair should contact you approximately 2 weeks in advance of the panel to set the agenda – schedule time to talk to her!
  • You are likely to be asked to spend five minutes setting out your thoughts on the proposed topic.
  • Prepare and memorise this five minute piece and think carefully about what you are going to say (Cicero also recommended memorising your speech).

Practice makes perfect

Rehearse your speech several times preferably in front of an audience who will not fall asleep and who are honest.

And on the day…

…start strong

It is often helpful to memorise the first minute or two of your speech to ease you into it – once you’ve started you’ll find it easier to keep going. Never apologise or spend too much time on inane pleasantries – get down to business. The first minute or two is about establishing the rapport with the audience and setting the degree to which they give you authority to speak.

Think about your body language

  • Style and tone of voice account for 90 per cent of communication so adopt a relaxed, confident pose.
  • Maintain eye contact with the audience – select one or two people from the audience to maintain contact but do not stare!
  • If there are label mics available use them – no Al Jolson impressions and shout at them!

Timings

Watch your timing, never overun and finish a few minutes to ask for any questions

Closing note: On the question of number of words on a slide. Keep this to a minimum and if possible none at all other than an intro slide ‘who you are’. I was at a resilience conference a few months back and we had an address by a very senior woman from the States who used no slides at all (or notes) and she held the audience riveted by her authority on the topic. There was a hand-out at the end for notes but for the duration of the address there were no distractions and we were able to follow the logic closely.

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