7 Tips for Conference Speakers

Posted on August 2, 2013


A few weeks ago I spoke at the Food & Wine Conference in Orlando. I spoke with Nicole Cook about SEO for bloggers, and based on the conference surveys we had one of the top sessions of the event. Here I’ll share some tips for giving a great conference presentation.

You are there to share wisdom

People don’t care about data, strategies or tactics unless there is wisdom behind it.

Wisdom is the application of knowledge. It’s the things you learn when you try and fail, or try and succeed. It’s what you took away from the experience, and what you would do differently the next time.

Show pictures, not text

Try this little experiment. Go to Facebook, and start looking through your friends photos. See how long it takes you to look at a photo, understand what the photo is about, then flip to the next one. It probably takes you a fraction of a second.

Now go to a blog, and start flipping through blog posts. See how long it takes you to understand what the post is about. Probably at least a few seconds. This is because the brain can process photos much more easily than text.

Flip through my presentation below. Look at how many slides contain bullet points, or large chunks of text.

Tell a story

Listen to this short story…
Last night I woke up, and it was still dark outside. I looked over at my wife, and she was still asleep. I rolled over to grab my phone, and it read 3:00AM. Despite my body fearing the cold air, I pulled back the sheets and my feet softly hit the floor. I made my way down the stairs towards the kitchen for a lite snack. I opened the refrigerator door. The 40 watt bulb that seemed so weak in the day now shown like the sun. I poured myself a glass of cold milk, added some chocolate syrup, gave it a stir, drank the milk and headed back upstairs.

Now this has got to be the most boring story in the world, but it holds interest because it’s linear. Great story tellers don’t jump around, they go step by step from beginning, middle to end, and great speakers let their presentation tell a story as well.

Kate’s story

To make this presentation easy to follow we created a fictional blogger named Kate (Thank you to Kate Hudson for letting us use her likeness without permission).

We start the presentation with a few intro slides in order to establish credibility and trust (Trust is a fascination trigger). Then on Slide 7, we introduce them to Kate, a food blogger like them who is just starting out, and doesn’t know a thing about SEO.

As we progress through the presentation, Kate asks questions about SEO that the audience is likely to ask as well. She starts asking about what blogging platform to use, then progresses to asking about plugins, then progresses further to talk about content development and advanced topics like link building and ROI.

Keep it short

Human’s attention span is only about 15 minutes. If you need to present for longer than 15 minutes, consider breaking it up with a short video clip, fun exercise, brief Q&A, a short skit, or anything to keep folks from pulling out their cell phones.

Expect the unexpected

During the presentation the computer we presented from kicked us out of the presentation and started to load a windows update. I tried canceling it, but it wasn’t responding. I thought about panicking, but here’s what I did instead.

  1. I considered doing the presentation without the slides – Unfortunately my mind blanked, and I couldn’t remember what slides came next. Make sure you study your deck enough to present without it should the need arise
  2. I hinted at the conference folks to send up tech support –  I said, “Well folks, while we wait for our technical support hero’s to come up and save us, let me take a moment to tell you how you can connect with us on Twitter, and how you can get a copy of the presentation afterwards”
  3. Be quick on your feet – Then I said, “I’ve noticed a few folks have been tweeting us during the presentation… ” Then I grabbed my phone and started reading a few tweets, and thanking folks individually for the tweets. This got people excited, thinking that I’ll read their tweet onstage, so they all started tweeting at us
  4. Use the time wisely – By the time I finished reading a few tweets, tech support fixed the problem, and our presentation was back on track. But if it had been longer downtime, I would have asked for any questions on what we already presented, would have told a short story, or would have elaborated on some of the things topics presented earlier in more depth.

Engage the audience

At some point in all my presentations I ask the audience, “Have you heard about this before?” or “Raise your hand if you’ve tried this before”. If your audience is energetic, you can say, “By round of applause, who here loves this tool?” or if it’s a shy audience, you can say, “Nod your head if you agree”.

In this particular presentation, I asked the audience to raise their hand if they were on Triberr. About 1/3 of the audience raised their hands. Not bad!

Keep them fascinated

There are 7 triggers of fascination

  1. Trust
  2. Lust
  3. Power
  4. Vice
  5. Alarm
  6. Mystique
  7. Prestige

I always start my presentations with some background on how long I’ve been doing SEO, and I drop a few names of the big companies that I’ve worked with. This gives me credibility and authority, which translates into trust. That’s my go-to fascination trigger. I sometimes mix in alarm when I talk about blackhat tactics and ranking penalties.

Share and Share alike

What are your tips for delivering a great conference session?



2 Replies to "7 Tips for Conference Speakers"

  • Barry Hammond
    August 26, 2013 (3:37 pm)

    Great thoughts on laying out a presentation. It not only applies to conferences, but any public speaking event. To resonate the presentation the usage of vocal variety with some laser directed gestures take a mundane talk over the top.

  • Renee
    September 18, 2013 (11:45 am)

    Great article Dan! It is a great resource for anyone giving a presentation or public speaking in general.
    I very much enjoyed the presentation you and Nicole gave at the Food and Wine Conference. I hope to see at the next one too.

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