People attend conferences to learn new ideas, new processes, and to network with colleagues who share their passion. But don’t kid yourself by thinking presenters have the same intentions – they are their to sell their wares. This huge disconnect often means that presenters make some pretty serious mistakes when they take the stage and here are the top three.
Please don’t take pictures of my slides: The first phrase that pops into my head after hearing that from a speaker beginning their talk is ‘why are you showing them to me then?’ If your audience can’t FULLY engage in your presentation, and that means tweeting what you say, taking pictures of your slides and facebooking them, and downloading your fully available slides, then your presentation is not ready to give. Wait until every slide is publicly available so that you don’t disappoint your audience. It is not a ‘treat’ to be told that they are getting an advance peek. It is a disappointment that they can’t share it with anyone.
I’m late for another meeting: This is another insult to the audience. Yes, we know you are very busy and very important but so am I and I am sitting right in front of you begging for your attention. If you can’t dedicate time before and after your presentation to your audience, then do not take that speaking engagement. Ideally, stay the whole day. People will come up to during the day and tell you what they liked and disliked about your presentation and they will spark some pretty interesting conversations. Everyone of those conversations is a brand awareness conversation and a chance to share your expertise. Your expertise is what will result in a sale, not you rushing off to talk to the next person in your queue. Besides, your audience made time to stay the whole day because they knew they would learn something. Chances are that you don’t know everything either and you would learn something too.
I should tell you what my company does first: People don’t attend conferences to learn about the five year history of your company, your mission, your vision, or its product portfolio. Despite what you think, none of that will help them understand your presentation better and none of that will help you make a sale. All you’ve done is annoy people while you waste 5 minutes that could have been used to share more information. People go to conferences to learn about new ideas. If your idea is clearly and confidently explained with lots of good examples and lots of interesting insights, people will seek you out. They will go to your website and learn more about what you do. They will search for you after your presentation and beg for a one-to-one conversation. Your expertise and personal attention will result in sale
A wise person recently shared with me what the four types of conference speakers. It really resonated with me as I attend a lot of conferences and see so many examples of each one. Here are my thoughts about each type.
- Industry trend crystal gazers: These speakers are typically keynote speakers. They take a broad look at the industry and illustrate the trends they see with slides full of pretty images. They leave the audience feeling excited and regenerated, but there is often little for the audience to bring home and act on.
- Business development and product/services sales. Sometimes, I wonder if these speakers don’t realize they are actually presenting a sales pitch. Or, perhaps they think the audience doesn’t realize it is a sales pitch. Either way, these speakers can be very frustrating for the audience who has come to learn and be inspired not bring out a cheque book. They are most likely to generate less than positive tweets.
- Boring brand managers. Audiences love to hear from brand managers. Even though they aren’t nearly as innovative as they’d like to think, we are desperate to learn what they want, what they need, how they’re trying to change their business. Let’s be honest, when brand managers speak, the vendor audience is taking notes on every flick of the hair hoping that something they learn will give them the edge in their next sales pitch.
- Content gurus. This is the group I aspire to be in. These speakers are all about content – teaching, coercing, convincing. These speakers give you knowledge that you can take home and put into action immediately. The speaker may not be fabulously entertaining and the presentation style may not be sexy or beautiful, but when you get home, you’ll know exactly how to do better research and get better results. This is where furious note taking among audience members takes place.
Which type do you fall into?
Last week, I wrote about giraffes and Nickelback. This week, I get a little more serious about the life lessons I’ve learned.
- Speak up for yourself. Tired of the colleague who drops by your desk everyday to gossip and stir up trouble? Tell them that you’re not interested in gossip. Tired of the employee who inserts at least one swear word in every sentence causing everyone around them to be uncomfortable? Tell them you don’t feel comfortable hearing so much profanity. Tired of the sushi joints your colleagues choose for lunch all the time? Suggest a different place and actually stand firm on going there. Disagree with your boss on which slide should come first? Voice your opinion and your reasoning out loud and don’t simply say you’ve changed your mind when you haven’t. It’s ok to say you disagree. It’s ok to talk about something that might make someone else uncomfortable.
- Speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. The workplace abounds with opportunities in this realm. I’m sure you’ve seen someone being bullied (i’m talking about many things besides being pushed around and called names) and just chuckled to yourself. Or, you’ve noticed that a young/new employee isn’t comfortable with something but doesn’t say anything about it. YOU can help. YOU can talk to HR and inform them about the bullying. YOU can suggest that someone should get a riser for their monitor because they’re tall. YOU can speak up about the excessive noise that is bothering someone else. When you have the power to make your workplace better for everyone, then do it. It may not be easy but oftentimes, it’s much easier for you to speak up than for other people to speak up.
- Interfere in other’s people’s business. Have you seen a child unattended in a car? Call 911. Have you seen a child being smacked around by a parent? Get in their face. Have you seen a kid in the process of graffiti? Remind them there are other things they can do with their creativity. Sometimes, people just don’t realize what they’re doing and a little wake call does the trick.
Been there, done that. It really does take a village and you are part of that village.
Flip the pages and read the children’s book called “It takes a village” here.
You’ve been thinking about doing it, you’ve watched other people do it, and you’ve read the output of someone doing it. But should you? Here is my advice, worth about 18 cents.
You shouldn’t blog conferences because:
1. It’s rude to the speaker
2. It’s distracting for people around you
3. It’s hard to pay complete attention to the speaker
4. The speaker doesn’t like it
Why you should blog conferences:
1. People who are never allowed to attend conferences can experience them
2. People in any time zone can join the conversation through side chats
3. It fills up any free time you may have outside official conference hours
4. It sparks business leads
5. It’s a good way to improve your writing skills
Personally, I’ve chosen to be a conference blogger. I bring a tiny netbook that doesn’t bang into the people beside me. I’m a touch typist so there’s no loud hunting and pecking. I do my best to be discreet. I will change a blog on the request of a speaker (I won’t change an opinion but I will correct or remove it.) When I’m the speaker, I want people to share anything they may have learned from me and on the flip side, I want to share what I’m learning too.
I love going to conferences. I get giddy with the anticipation of learning new things and when I’m the presenter, I can’t wait to share what I have learned. Over the years, I’ve figured out a few things that I want to see, and a few things I could do without, in presentations. So here goes.
- Drop the Dreaded Sell Job. That fact that you are standing at the front and everyone is staring at you is sell job enough. If your presentation is as great as you think it is, I’m going to squint really hard to see what your logo is and where you work. I’ll even save the conference brochure in which I put a smiley face 🙂 beside your name and try to link up with you afterwards. The quality of your insightful remarks and the passion you bring to the talk will sell me, not the repeated mention of “My company, Conversition Strategies, built this proprietary social media prediction model that you can only buy from us.”
- Demonstrate with Data. I may not understand what all the variables in your regression equation are but I want to see that you do. Put those tables on the screen even if I can barely see them. Give me the chance to draw my own conclusions about your data and see if I agree with yours. Maybe we can argue about it later and we’ll become fast friends.
- Chart a Great Chart. No, not 3D fluffy charts for the sake of having a picture on the page but a real chart that shows an interesting result. Pictures can often turn a huge table into a simple idea that everyone instantly understands. Aim for clarity not supermodel chartoons.
- Speak English. Synergistic, leveraging that harnesses the power of new paradigms doesn’t work for me. In fact, that’s going to start make me wondering what’s for lunch and whether I’ll see some nanaimo bars. I’m happiest with simple, action packed words. Think Dick and Jane.
- Don’t reuse, Do reinvigorate. I can think of one presentation that I have seen at least three times. The presenter just shuffles the slides and starts the speech. I can’t imagine a lazier or less caring presentation. I can understand that the topic may be the same, but for the sake of the folks in your audience who eagerly follow the topic at every opportunity they get, update your numbers, add new context, use different examples, include the latest information. Don’t teach me once and bore me to death twice.
- Prepare your own Presentation. There’s nothing more annoying than watching someone discover what the next slide is at the same time as the audience.
- Don’t run short and don’t run long. I know very well that it’s hard to time slides perfectly even if you’ve verbally rehearsed a presentation many times. If this is a problem you have, include extra slides at th end of the presentation that can be easily skipped if you are running behind. The conference organizers will thank you and so will the speaker immediately after you.
- Don’t be shy. Well, that’s not really what I mean. If you’re shy, you’re shy and that’s the end of the story. But, if you have interesting content, I won’t notice and I won’t care that you think you sound like an idiot. Besides, you probably sound fine.
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