What to Do When You’re a Conference Speaker: 4 Best Practices

blurry image of business Conference Speaker

Congratulations! Your conference speaker proposal has been accepted. Now what?  

Beyond getting the information you’ll be delivering together, timing its delivery to stay within your time limit,
and creating slides that will be easily understood and easy for you to deliver.   

Four Best Practices for Delivering a Great Conference Presentation  

1. Don’t overpromise to draw attendees.  

Think carefully about the title of your session and the description you write for it. You need to be clear, accurate, and focused on what attendees will gain from listening to you. Too often, in an attempt to motivate interest in their sessions, presenters overpromise.  Avoid words like “guaranteed,” “no-fail,” and “sure-fire.” These raise a red flag for serious conference attendees because very few ideas are actually any of these things.  

2. Assess your audience.  

I know it’s impossible to learn much about who your audience is before your session takes place. Often people wander into a breakout room without planning or forethought. Sometimes they may be in your session because the session next door has run out of seating. So even though you have no prior knowledge of the people in your audience, take a few minutes to get to know them at the beginning of your session.  

After you have introduced yourself and framed your presentation (discussed below), ask the group one or two simple questions about their experience and interest. For example, if your topic is about managing people, you could ask, “How many of you are currently managers?” You might follow that up with, “How many of you are managers of ten or more people?” Or, maybe you want to get a sense of where the audience’s interests lie. You could ask, “I’ve planned to talk about three things today: A, B, and C. If you had to choose to hear about one of these things, what would it be?” You could ask the group to raise their hands to vote for the topic they care about most.  

Your audience will appreciate the fact that you are tailoring your content to them. Make sure, though, that it’s obvious to them that you are adjusting your content to meet their needs. There’s nothing worse than asking for this type of information and then ignoring it.  

3. Think of the introduction to your session as a frame.

The frame should communicate four things: context, purpose, your agenda, and the takeaways for your attendees.  

  1. Context acknowledges your listeners’ current situation. This might be a struggle they are currently facing, a problem you’re going to help them solve, or maybe it’s curiosity about the information you’re delivering.  
  2. Your purpose statement describes what you want them to know, believe, or feel when you’re finished. This does not have to be a life-changing goal (see overpromising above), but it should be practical and specific. 
  3. Deliver an agenda. Your agenda will communicate order and clarity. It will also give people an overview of the topics you’re going to ask them to vote on when the frame has been delivered.   
  4. Be sure to explain the takeaways from your session for attendees. How will the information you’re presenting make their jobs easier or better? Don’t assume they have gathered this information from your session overview, and don’t exaggerate. Something as simple as, “I hope you leave this session today happy that you spent forty-five minutes with me.” 

4. Do not begin your session with an icebreaker. 

I define an icebreaker as some sort of activity designed to get people moving, talking, or interacting with the purpose of energizing the group or helping them get to know each other. I’ve written about the chilling effect of icebreakers before. In a conference setting, where the group will never be together again, icebreakers are time and energy wasters. If you’re thinking about an icebreaker as an energizer, remember that the tone of the room is set by you. Work to communicate your own enthusiasm for the topic you’re delivering.  

Beyond the careful consideration of the content you’re delivering, consider these four ways to make your conference session relevant, practical, and easy to understand for your attendees.  

Additional reading: For all our friends, clients, and colleagues in Learning & Development, check out our top picks for the Best L&D Conferences and Expos of 2023.  

Need to hone your own or your team’s presentation skills before your upcoming conference speaker event?

Contact us about our Presenting at Conferences Workshop, which can be delivered in person or virtually. 

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