Tips for Speaking at a Conference

Speaking at a conference is a big opportunity. My friend and fellow public speaker, Jack Vincent, is an expert in sales and marketing. Jack recently wrote a post in his blog offering eight tips for those speaking at a conference. The post was born of a frustrating experience:

I returned from a major industry conference two days ago. Was I disappointed! While the networking was good, the presentations overall were … average. And “average” is so far below the potential of anyone who speaks at a conference. Yet time and time again, the vast majority of conference presentations fall in to the abyss of meaningless … boring … forgotten.

Jack did note that there were a few people who cared about their presentations, but they were the exception rather than the rule. Sound familiar?

Speaking at a conference

Rather than let it pass, Jack took the time to write down eight tips for anyone speaking at a conference. They are worth considering. A conference is an ideal place to get your message across, strengthen your personal brand and develop clients. Here are Jack’s tips in summary form:

1. Prepare

Dedicate time to your presentation. Winston Churchill used to prepare one hour for every one minute of speech; while this is probably unrealistic for many of us today, the point is valid. Don’t wing it!

2. Know thy audience

Be audience-focused. Who is your audience? What will motivate them or shock them or make them laugh? What will make them think or realize they have a need they hadn’t considered?

3. What’s the big idea?

What big point do you want the audience to remember two days later?  You should have one big point.  Everything else should support it.  If it doesn’t, get rid of it.

4. Edgy is good

If 50% of your audience is happy that somebody is finally saying this in public, and 50% can’t believe this presenter has the audacity to suggest they should move away from their comfort zone, you will be noticed. You will build your brand. What do you stand for? Make it clear. Make it edgy.

5. Don’t sell from the podium

This is counter-intuitive to some. After all, why else should you be investing this time and brain-power? Paradoxically, the best way to sell in this environment is to show and not tell. If you’ve got something innovative to say, you’ll be building your brand and generating leads. But if you try to sell from the podium, people will walk out on you.

6. Spare me the bullets!

Use PowerPoint the way it should be used, as an engager, not a crutch for remembering your speech! Slides are meant to lead, not read. You are the messenger.  Your slides are the backdrop.

7. Deliver on your promise

The title of your presentation is, essentially, a promise. If you don’t deliver on your promise, you will have breached the audience’s trust. Fulfill your promise.

8. Rehearse

This goes beyond preparing. Preparation could be interpreted to mean researching, composing, creating a PowerPoint deck, etc. Rehearsing means closing the door, looking in the mirror and running through it … with no excuses.  Rehearsing means asking family members or office mates to sit and observe.  Sure, this is a bit uncomfortable.  But knowing half-way through your presentation that the whole thing would be going better if only you had prepared is much more uncomfortable.

As Jack says, “Speaking at a conference is a golden opportunity to accomplish what entire marketing departments die for: lead generation and brand building.  Don’t squander it. Capture it!”

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  1. I like the clarity and “to the point, no nonsense” advice from Jack. And it has me inspired to put more preparation into being a contestant for the upcoming TM Area Contest in Bern. Thank you for an interesting blog, both John and Jack.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International