Jul 4, 2012

5 Lessons from Presenting at a Conference

Two weeks back we organised a conference. It was a large room which had 160 people in the audience. There were three speakers who were presenting at the conference. The presenters were speaking from a podium (on the stage) with two big screens to showcase their slides. As I sat on the last bench I made the following 5 observations:

#1 Avoid text at the bottom of your slide

The people were seated in 10 rows. The people in the last few rows were having trouble seeing the bottom 30% portion of the slide (see the actual image on the right). The seats were not like what you see in the image below (a theatre style). All the chairs were at the same level and the screen was not fixed too high up. In case you are presenting to a large gathering and the audience is going to be sitting on same level make sure you write nothing at the bottom of the slide. Mark the bottom 30% of the slide area as a 'no text zone'.

#2 Use large size font

This is common sense but not so easy to implement. If you have never visited the venue, what font size will you choose? Option 1. Visit the venue before the presentation. Option 2. If you cannot, then find out how big is the venue. When in doubt, go for a font size of more than 50. Too tough, then stay above 40. Do not risk anything below that.

#3 Vernacular works best

This was perhaps my biggest lesson. The audience was a bunch of Telugu speaking people and the presentation was in English (as all presentations in India are). The presenters were advised to speak in the local language. Language connects really well. Even though the crowd knew English vernacular worked its magic. The presenters who spoke in vernacular were understood better and got more questions and applauds. I do not mean to say everyone should start talking vernacular. But if you feel your audience will respond better, give vernacular a try.

#4 Test it before the final show

Run the entire presentation once before the audience comes. This is just to ensure there are no technical glitches. We had to play a video at the start. We tested it at the start before the audience came in. But when it was shown to the audience, the colour went haywire. The impact was lost.

Even after a trial run, we faced this technical glitch. Wondering why?

There were two computers connected to the projectors. The trial run was done on one computer but the final video was run from the other. Later we found out, the wire connection was a problem in the second computer. We finally ran the video the second time and ran it from the first computer (on which the trial was done). It worked fine. Lesson #1: Test the presentation and videos from a laptop and make sure the same laptop is used finally.

During the second run when the colour was okay, the music did not work. The problem, the wire was defective. We did not panic, changed the wire and ran the video again :-) Lesson #2 Something or the other will go wrong. Don't worry.

#5 Use Videos

Videos are the wow moments of any conference. The audience, however interested, cannot sit through an hour listening to three presentations. They get bored. Research suggests the human attention span is only 10 minutes. In such a case, videos do wonders.

We had initially planned to run a presentation in loop. The presentation had background music as well. At the last minute, we decided to add voice over. We wanted to make it easy for the audience. Instead of having to read, they will now sit back and enjoy it like a movie. We went to a professional studio and converted the PPT into a video along with a voice over in vernacular.

This turned out to be the 'best' moment in the conference. This 8 minute long video delivered its message in a far more effective, entertaining and appealing manner. Lesson: Use videos as much as possible.

Theatre Image source.

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