You get that unexpected phone call: “Well done, your organisation’s performance has been truly outstanding, and we would like you to share your best practices at the next annual conference.”  What do you do? Are you in or out?

As a leader, you probably have some experience presenting – to your colleagues, to prospective clients, and possibly to the board. Yet, presenting at a conference to hundreds of people can sound daunting. The mere thought of standing up in front of a large crowd can cause sleepless nights. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By preparing well, you can turn a potential nightmare into a dream opportunity.

Whether this is your first time or you’re a seasoned professional, here are seven handy tips to help you along the way.

1. Gather the facts

Before anything else, gather all relevant information about the conference. What is the theme? Who are the other speakers? How much time will you have? Will the event be in-person, hybrid, or virtual? Will you be taking questions from the audience? What is the venue like? If possible, visit the venue in advance or request photos of the conference space. Knowing whether you have comfort monitors, the stage layout, and your position can greatly impact your preparation. Also, provide a strong introduction and relevant bio to the person introducing you to establish credibility even before you start speaking.

2. Know your audience

Your presentation should be driven by the needs of your audience. Get in touch with the conference organiser to learn as much as possible about the attendees. Who are they? How many people are expected? What organisations do they come from? What is their level of knowledge on the subject? Tailor your presentation to address their interests and expectations. Think about your presentation from their perspective: if you were in their seat, what would you want to take away from the talk?

3. Craft a compelling narrative

Humans are hardwired to respond to stories. Transform your data and insights into a compelling narrative that captures attention and drives your points home. A well-structured story with a clear beginning, middle, and end will make your presentation more engaging and memorable. Use real-life examples and case studies from your experience to illustrate your points and add authenticity to your narrative.

4. Use visuals to your advantage

Don’t dive straight into building your slides. First, identify the key objective of your presentation. What do you want your audience to walk away with? Outline your key points and then flesh out each point in more detail, ensuring coherence in your content sequence. Once your key ideas are crafted, think about the visual elements of your slides. Ensure your presentation is aesthetically pleasing, clean, and simple. Use high-quality images, infographics, and minimal text. Remember, slides should complement your speech, not serve as a script.

5. Timing is key

Plan your presentation around the time frame allocated. If you have 20 minutes, plan for slightly less to account for any unforeseen delays. Practice your presentation out loud to ensure you stay within the time limit. Avoid cramming too much information; this will only lead to rushing through slides and appearing unprofessional. Going overtime can also leave a negative impression on your audience.

6. Engage with your audience

Engaging your audience can transform a good presentation into a great one. Use rhetorical questions or imagine scenarios to make your audience think. For example, “Have you paused to consider how you can best exploit AI in an ethical way?” or “Imagine being woken up by a cheerful robot who serves you freshly brewed coffee with a warm smile.” These techniques create a low-risk way of engaging your audience, sparking curiosity and emotional connection.

You can also involve your audience with simple interactions like asking for a show of hands. For instance, “Can I have a raise of hands who here has experienced…?” This approach is more effective if you raise your hand in response to your question, giving your crowd confidence to do the same. Sharing a personal narrative or compelling case study can also capture and hold your audience’s attention.

7. Practice, practice, practice

Internalise your key messages, ensure your ideas flow coherently, and practice out loud. Practice in front of trusted colleagues and ask for feedback. Record yourself to observe your movements and vocal dynamics. You might even consider working with a public speaking coach to polish your delivery.

Seize the opportunity

Conference speaking can seem intimidating, but with the right preparation, you can deliver a memorable presentation. So, when the day comes and you’re invited to present at a conference, what will you do? Will you seize the opportunity or shy away? I encourage you to embrace the moment and shine at your next speaking engagement. By mastering these strategies, you can enhance your effectiveness as a speaker and leave a lasting impression on your audience.

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