The ultimate prep tips for conference speaking

"The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the minute you are born and never stops until you get up to speak in public.” - Roscoe Drummond

Are you getting ready for your big break in conference speaking? Want to wow your audience with your witty prose, lightening reactions, well-rehearsed presentation and confident speech? Then you’ll need to prepare as if you are going for the most important job interview of your life. Not everyone is cut out for conference speaking, but there are heaps of anecdotes portraying success stories of shy, quiet people killing it on the stage.

So, how do they do it? Here are the ultimate prep tips to help you rock the stage at your next public speaking engagement. Go on, give yourself the best chance of flipping the script and wowing your audience.

  1. Be sure all the tech you’ll be relying on actually works

Let’s get the boring, technical must-do’s out of the way first. Don’t be tempted to bowl up to your conference slot at the last minute with the expectation that everything you’ve requested will have been organised and set up in waiting for you. Although that part of the planning isn’t necessarily down to you, you’ll want to arrive early enough to test your tech tools and make sure you won’t have to improvise. When tech fails, even the hardiest of conference speakers find it hard to recover.

If you are using any event technology, such as the Clikapad audience response system, or presentation tools such as a remote to make you more mobile on the stage, be sure you are briefed on how everything works.

Be sure you have spare batteries for everything you use, or ask your conference staff to make sure they can supply them. And don’t forget to test the microphone – you want your audience to hear you loud and clear.

  1. Have some icebreakers up your sleeve

When you are faced with a steely audience, you’ll want to quickly get them relaxed and on side. Making a joke is a common piece of advice that all too often falls flat. Lame, generalised jokes don’t go down too well. Making a joke at your own expense is fine, but definitely don’t make a joke at the expense of the audience, the company you are representing, or about the person who has just introduced you. It makes an uncomfortable start.

There are a few tried and tested ways to get off to a good start. You want to hook your audience in and engage with them from the word go.

Open with a ‘raise-your-hand-kind of question. ‘Raise your hand if you want more out of life’, or ‘raise your hand if you want to make a million pound this year.’ Don’t ask people to raise their hands to negative statements though.

Or start with some interesting news – ‘I was reading this really interesting article in the paper this morning …’ People are naturally interested in breaking news, no matter how big or small. It’s great to tie in some interesting news with what you are speaking about, or try opening your speech with a great quote.

  1. Choose your topic wisely

It may seem obvious, but don’t try speaking about something you aren’t an absolute expert in. You are bound to get some leftfield questions and you’ll want to be able to bat them into touch without a flinch. You are much more likely to deliver a confident speech if you know all of the ins and outs of what you are speaking about. Know your subject, speak confidently, and you are much more likely to nail it. Also, pay attention to your title. You need to be sure your presentation title will attract the right audience.

  1. Don’t rely wholly on your slideshow

Your presentation slides are your helper. They’re not the whole deal. Think of your presentation as the bare bones helping you to deliver the content and material you know so well. Limit text on slides. Images, diagrams and metrics are fine, but the supporting words should be delivered by you.

Spend plenty of time preparing. Do a couple of practice runs so you can tweak any clumsy sentences. Time yourself and stick to the time limits you set yourself. Allow for audience participation and questions. You can always stipulate when you are happy to take questions from the audience, so they don’t interrupt your flow. Remember public speaking doesn’t come naturally to most of us, but try to enjoy it!

  1. Pepper your presentation with actionable insights

People come to conferences to learn from the experts. Your audience will expect to go home with some actionable insights they couldn’t have found doing a quick search on the internet. Share your knowledge and expertise.

Good Luck!

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