This article came about due to a conversation I had with someone who had recently attended a presentation I was also in the audience at. It wasn’t a session I was particularly enamored with, on many levels, and I was glad to hear the other person thought the same about the session. This isn’t the usual how to be a good presenter advice, there’s enough of that floating around, in this case it addresses some very specific things that we both agreed made the session a waste of time, and even worse, we missed attending competing sessions that could have given us some value.
Tip 1: Make sure you are a Subject Matter Expert (SME)
I know this seems obvious, but sometimes the desire to be heard in a public forum is greater than the ability to deliver the content in an appropriate manner. Someone who has dabbled with a technology, or loaded up the trial and had a poke around isn’t a subject matter expert. At a tech event, this describes everyone in the audience, so it only makes the presenter seem worse than they are.
If you can’t answer the majority of the relevant questions from the audience at the end of the presentation, you probably aren’t as much of an SME as you thought you were. Speaking at an event in order to get the attendance fee waived does not make you an SME.
Tip 2: Partner with a recognised SME
If you are trying to gain an association with a technology, find out who else is at the event that is willing to co-present with you. Even if you take the lead, and have the other person on stage with you for support, having the SME adds credibility to you when you defer questions you cannot answer to your co-presenter.
Where this becomes extremely valuable is if the event is run by the company whose technology you are presenting on. Having a member of the product team by your side adds an additional level of credibility that most other SMEs couldn’t add to you as an individual. You will also learn from them while you prepare content and run through rehearsals.
Tip 3: Have A Unique Angle
Are you doing something interesting with the technology that may add additional value to other users of the technology? Do you have undocumented workarounds to share? Do you have real world experience from real world deployments that utilize related technologies that others may not have thought of incorporating?
Tip 4: Don’t Sessionjack
I don’t know if sessionjack is really a word, but we have all been in a presentation where one of the presenters has hijacked the direction of the content to suit their purposes instead of matching the needs of the other. If the sole purpose of the co-presenter is to inject some humor, rethink the reasons for having them there.
Tip 5: Don’t Oversell Your Offerings
There are many reasons for presenting your content – to gain a reputation, to help drive book sales, to sell some consulting hours etc that don’t fall into the category of altruism, and most people are happy with that. Save the infomercial for your resource slides, if the audience members think you would be valuable to engage with, they will do so. An overly aggressive sales pitch at a technical conference is not going to resonate well with the audience.
Tip 6: Make sure your session title and session description matches what you are delivering
Time and time again we have all been to sessions that are advertised as one thing and end up being something different. I have been guilty of keeping session titles and descriptions deliberately vague due to long lead times for advanced schedule publishing, and also not knowing what is still going to be under NDA.
Not only should the content match the description, if there is an advertised technical level of the content, it should match this. Attending a session billed as advanced, but being nothing more than an introduction or marketing pitch, is highly inappropriate and a sure way to get bad results.
Tip 7: Not everyone in the room knows who you are
Having previously worked for the same employer for 20 years, and delivering hundreds of public presentations each year, you do get to know many of your audience members, but there are always going to be people in the room who have never heard of you. This means that you need to be careful with any long running jokes, or too many references back to earlier events that others may not have attended. You need to make sure you acknowledge those you know, without appearing to cocky or dismissive by joking with them in front of strangers. It’s not always an easy balance to keep.
Tip 8: Not everyone in the room is going to like you
After a period of time, presenting in front of a large audience gets ridiculously easy as your comfort level with that activity increases. What never changes is when you review the evaluation comments, it’s always the harsh comments that stick out. There is always going to be some useful feedback for you as a presenter, or ways to improve the content. However, you will always get what I would call some non-constructive criticism. This can stem from a variety of areas, from someone just not liking your presentation style, someone disagreeing with what you had to say, someone who expected something completely different from the session (despite you ensuring the session name and description were completely accurate, of course!)
Tip 9: Attend Other Sessions On The Same Topic At The Event
There are a couple of primary reasons for this – to make sure that all of the presenters know what is being addressed in the other sessions to avoid too much overlap, and to learn from others in case questions on those areas come up in your session.
There are other benefits of having additional resources in the room to call on in case a question comes up that someone else has had experience with. As products and technologies get more complicated, the days of knowing every aspect of them is long gone, so do the audience a favor and have all of the technical resources in the room to support each other.
Tip 10: Submit Your Presentation Early For Review
Even if the event isn’t large enough to warrant a professional PowerPoint person to address any formatting issues, making the content available early so that attendees can review it prior to the session has a few advantages. If the content doesn’t seem appropriate for some attendees, they could choose another session. Others who want to attend based on the content can print it out to make notes during the session, or to mark it in advance to ask questions related to that area.
What about how to be a good audience member? That’s coming up next…