Presentation Zen… A long time ago at a conference far far away

2 09 2010

Allow me a very geeky moment to share a post over at Presentation Zen (here). I know we’ve discussed presentations and the need to simplify slides previously, but the point really can’t be made often enough and I’ve frankly never seen it made so well.

Next time you’re prepping slides for a conference think about what you can cut; you want those delegates focusing on you, not reading your slides and missing that carefully crafted speech of yours. More than that, consider where you stand, how you use your slides and rehearse how you’re going to interact with the audience AND your slides.

May the force be with you.

PR Week: PR and Digital Media conference

25 06 2010

I attended this PR Week conference  this week and would like to talk about this from two different angles. 1) my key take-aways from the event in terms of content, and 2) some examples of good and bad practice I noticed from the speakers in terms of the delivery of their presentations.

Key take-aways:

  • AVE as a metric is dead (this is no surprise to most but I was amazed it was included in a speaker’s presentation!)
  • Need to get digital and social media involved in the planning stage for large campaigns – can’t go to the digital team at the end of the planning and ask them to ‘socialise’ or ‘digitise’ something.
  • This is from an agency perspectice, but many brands are still hungry for knowledge about social media and digital and for some there is still a long way to go to educate them. A colleague who has just done a 8-month stint in-house thinks this is because many brands don’t have regular access to the same intelligence that agencies do.
  • There is a fear of social media due to the worry that it will go wrong – no doubt due in part to the high profile social media disasters that are picked up and covered widely in the mainstream media. Crisis management is a big issue and there were two very good and candid presentations from Mary Walsh, Director of Comms for Eurostar and Stuart Ross, Director of News for Transport for London.
  • Control of social media – discussion over who owns it in an org – marketing, comms, customer services, sales, etc. Also an issue of control – legal departments often quash ambitious campaigns.  Advice was that involving legal teams in the planning stage gets them on board easier.

Good and bad practice:

  • I won’t name names but there were examples of great presenters, and not so great. Also slide presentation differed greatly. 
  • One speaker’s slides were so full of text that I lost track of what message he was trying to get across. He moved on to the next slide when I was still reading the second paragraph – yes…I said PARAGRAPH! I took a photo of his slides on my iPhone to document it – that’s the photo at the top of this post. By contrast, another speaker used mainly images and it was much easier to follow.
  • One guy shunned PPT in favour of a something called which worked well and was a nice change – bravo.
  • Finally, most were good with this, but some went on a little too long explaining what they did before getting into the content of the discussion. 

Virtual Conferences: Here to Stay?

18 05 2010

Like us you’ve probably noticed more and more ‘virtual events’ and online conferences cropping up, particularly in the web 2.0, social media and cloud sectors. Perhaps you’ve spoken at or attended one of these events or were wondering whether to include it amongst your targets for next year. Either way we’d like to share our two cents and hear your thoughts in the comments.

From a purely financial standpoint it’s clear why these events have evolved; production costs are vastly reduced, there’s no limit on delegate numbers and there’s a significant long tail effect following the conference as materials remain hosted online and social networking tools remain active. Virtual events also place fewer constraints on your time, as a speaker you can record your session when it’s convenient for you and delegates can view the sessions that interest them most in their preferred order; revisiting those they found most useful.

Many virtual events now have virtual networking lounges and various social media tools which stay active year long allowing you to chase long tail leads; in essence it’s the online version of a one-to-one event, or business ‘speed-dating’. Some end-users even prefer this as it’s very convenient and removes the face-to-face nature of ‘the sell’ and the pushy salesman in a cheap suit cornering you between conference sessions!


However, the face to face nature and live networking is the primary reason many attend live events, and that of course is missing from a virtual event; they lack the live engagement and personal interaction that you get with a ‘real’ event. There is also a tendency to trade ‘attendance for attention’; while it’s a cost-effective way to reach a large number of your target audience, delegates are often distracted by things going on in their office so there is far less meaningful engagement. There is also no guarantee that the level of delegate that signed up is the one actually ‘attending’. Often a junior member of staff will ‘attend’ and gather necessary information to condense and present back to senior executives.

Clearly virtual events are continually improving, and some certainly rival the real world events they’re replacing, but we don’t believe they’re yet ready to take the mainstream. Virtual events may be a useful medium to get the due diligence for a product or service out of the way (case studies, track record, stats, service requirements, etc), but when it comes to closing a deal or making a sale, it still takes personal selling – networking just isn’t the same without a physical handshake and a business card to take home to your sales team.

We look forward to the day we can ‘jack in’ to a conference and feel the virtual warmth of someone’s hand (and the luke warm watered down coffee!), but until the technology is such that virtual events feel real and allow for face to face interaction we don’t believe they’ll be replacing any premium real world events.

Of course if you think we’re wrong let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of virtual events.

Best practice using PowerPoint

14 04 2010

Think presentation – think PowerPoint.

Sadly this is the case for many professionals and as a result it’s been completely forgotten that PowerPoint is simply a presentation aid – not a presentation in itself. For many presenters, it is a program that is relied on so much that it ends up dominating their presentation, deadening the impact that great content might otherwise have had. Think of the best, most memorable presentations or speeches you have ever heard in your life, and chances are most of them will have either used less than five slides or not used PowerPoint at all. With no complicated slides to distract your eye and mind, you are forced to focus on the person speaking and take in what they are saying. Ever tried to listen to what someone is saying to you while you are reading a book? It is quite difficult to do, and it’s no easier reading busy slides while trying to listen to a presentation.

Use PowerPoint if you must, but keep in mind these tips to ensure that you use it appropriately and that it will aid your presentation – not dominate it:

1. Avoid crowding the slides with too much information

2. Do not rely on PowerPoint to hide poor presenting skills – rather sign up for some presentation training!

3. Do not read off the slides with your back to the audience

4. Make every word and image count – each one should help convey your message

5. Avoid using too many special effects – too much can be distracting

6. Do not use hard to read colour combinations

7. Use as few slides as possible

That’s not to say that PowerPoint doesn’t have its place, and in fact I stumbled upon a good blog post that does a better job than I could of outlining when, where and how to use PowerPoint.

The truth about keynotes: is it THE slot to have?

11 04 2010

Good question.  We often have clients come to us and tell us that they only want a keynote when the speak at a conference.  Fair enough.  A keynote is traditionally the premier slot at any event and for the most part I would agree that this is an excellent slot to have as it sets you apart from competitors and the rest of the speaker list.  But this shouldn’t be used a benchmark for what value you get out of speaking at a conference, or whether you should bother speaking at an event or not.

There are few observations I’d like to share with regard to keynotes….

Audiences are expecting a lot more from conferences these days.  Long gone are the days when delegates were happy to pay full price just to be talked at – they want interactivity, they want to ask questions, they want networking.  In short, they want value for money.   In this respect, keynotes are not also the showpiece of every event and in fact if the conference organisers do a good job at putting them together, panel discussions are much more engaging and exciting for audiences.  A panel full of competitors for example or even representatives of different parts of the industry value chain can really get sparks flying and you often learn more from these sessions then you ever would from the one-way pulpit preaching that a keynote can sometimes be.

Secondly, some conference organisers can be a bit sneaky and many now call any old stand-alone slot a keynote in order to attract higher-level execs to speak at their event.  This can lead to speakers being misled as when most people think of a keynote, they imagine themselves being the first speaker or having a slot that is somehow exclusive.  There can often be disappointment when they arrive and find that they are one of 20 ‘keynote’ speakers throughout the day. Do your research and ask penetrating questions of the organiser about the format and structure of the sessions.

Finally, a keynote slot won’t hide poor presentation skills or a poorly prepared presentation and in fact, with the great expectation that a keynote brings from the audience, it can be detrimental to your communications goals and brand image.  If you are fortunate enough to have secured an opening keynote slot at a great event – PREPARE!  Treat the whole thing like a Broadway musical and practice, practice, practice.  Invest the time and effort in making the content great and the speaker the best he or she can be. It’s a show folks, the audience wants to learn but also be entertained. Many companies that we work with do this exceptionally well and even have a whole internal team dedicated to the task. As a result their presentations are outstanding and they are constantly asked back to present or asked to new events on the back of others.

So step back and have a think about what you want to get out of a conference (sales leads, networking, raise brand profile, etc).  Granted, you don’t want to be stuck in a back room session on the afternoon of the last day of the event, but if the people you want to meet or influence are at the event, chances are you can still be memorable, achieve your objective and gain value from paticipation, regardless of whether you have a keynote slot or not.

Know your enemy

3 03 2010

In our previous post we mentioned being conspicuous by your absence – competitor analysis is a very important aspect of speaking that a lot of companies do very poorly. There are essentially two key elements to this: knowing what your competitors are doing at an event you are speaking at and how this will affect you and overall knowledge of your competitors presence at events throughout the year.

It’s an old cliché – but knowledge really is power. Research the details of your particular session and plan for every possible scenario; it’s not uncommon for a competitor to ask a difficult question from the floor or undermine you in their own session. Much like you would for a media briefing with a journalist, consider the tricky questions you may be asked and prepare a response, particularly if you’re speaking on a panel session as you may be open to questions from any number of stakeholders.


You should also consider where on the agenda your competitor is speaking; if possible try to get a better speaking slot than them. Morning of the first day is best and the graveyard slot should be avoided (late afternoon of the final day). If you know the producer’s time-line and contact them early enough you have a greater chance to influence the planning of the agenda.

It’s also important to track your competitors’ presence at live events throughout the year. Once you know where they’re speaking, what they’re saying and even how much they’re spending at events you can better plan your own speaking strategy. The best way to do this is by enlisting the help of a specialist third-party who can research this information and build a picture of what your competitors are doing and (if they’re worth their salt) recommend a suitable and strategic course of action.

The three Ps: Best practice for delivering a conference presentation

9 02 2010


There is already a plethora of useful information available on presentation tips and best practice.  A quick search I did today for presentation tips uncovered some great insight, and one of the most comprehensive lists I found was from Cameron Moll and his 20 tips for better conference speaking.

I’d agree with all of Cameron’s tips with exception perhaps to #3 – ‘always err on the side of being more advanced’.  I hasten to add that this is probably due to the context in which most of my clients speak, which is the tech and telco industry.  Particularly with the recent convergence of technologies, these type of events attract a wide range of audience who represent all different elements of the industry value chain.  Accordingly, there are experts in each field but few that are experts in all fields.  With the tech industry’s penchant for acronyms and tech slang, it’s very easy to present at a level that is too advanced for many in the audience and they will immediately switch off.  In this case you might go from having the attention of 300 delegates to 30 within a slide or two.  Part of getting this right is simply doing the research to know your audience.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here, in fact, while I could go on and on there’s only one piece of best practice I’d like to share…and that is the ‘three Ps’:

Prepare, practice and practice!

Preparation is a given. Work out who the audience is and what’s going to interest them, then prepare your content accordingly.  How long have you got?  What are the likely questions you will be asked? What level of detail do I need to go into?  Asking yourself questions like this will ensure you’re delivering a relevant and well received presentation.

As for practice…that’s not a typo. It’s written twice because it’s THAT important.  Once you’ve got your content sorted, stand up in front of a mirror, your partner, cat, house plant – whatever, just get up and present what you’ve got out loud.  You’ll quickly find that you’re horrible and stumble and stutter your way through it.  But, keep doing it and by the third or fourth time you will start to smooth the bumps out and get a flow going.  This will also raise your confidence levels before the big day. Presenting is like acting, you need to practice your lines, timing, delivery, etc.

I believe if more senior executives follwed the three Ps, we’d see a dramatic increase in the quality of conference presentations.