How do you distinguish yourself as a presenter, particularly at a trade show, where, because there are other activities going on, audience members will feel free to get up and leave it they lose interest?
While the standard ingredients for successful presentations apply at these conferences, there are some areas that require special attention because of the inherent differences and limitations of this environment.
• Good presenters are aware of the need to maintain eye contract with the audience. In a corporate meeting room or when speaking to a small group, it's much easier to achieve eye contact. When you speak in a large lecture hall, you cannot make eye contract with all of the audience members.
Most lecture halls have a center aisle. I like to imagine three sections on either side of the center aisle—the front, the middle and the back. This gives a total of six sections. As you proceed through your presentation, take time to look at each of these six sections. The audience will see your head looking at different locations and this will convey a sense of eye contact.
• Because you will not have personal and intimate contact with your audience, your visual aids take on a higher level of significance. The audience will judge you based on the quality of your visuals aids. Make extra effort to keep the visual aids simple and ensure that they can be read from the back of the room. It may be necessary to learn the dimensions of the lecture hall in advance.
• Be sure to speak while facing the audience. Most likely, you will be speaking from behind a lectern. There is natural tendency to read while looking down at your notes. Look at the audience while you are speaking. You can take a short pause to look at your notes, but never speak while looking down at them or at the screen.
• During this type of presentation, you may get no feedback from the audience. In a dark lecture hall, it is difficult to see facial expressions on the audience members. Audience members cannot ask questions interactively, but must wait until you are done speaking. In this environment it is very easy for your speaking to end up in a monotone. Make extra efforts to ensure that you speak in a conversational manner and maintain your sense of enthusiasm.
• Avoid buzzwords and idiomatic expressions. Today's audiences are culturally diverse. There is an increased number of people who speak English as a second language. Out of courtesy to them, use simple basic language.
• There is usually a strict time limit for these types of presentations. Part of your preparation process should include a rehearsal against a clock. On every third or fourth page of your notes, write down the amount of the time that has elapsed. Using a different color ink, write down the amount of time that will be remaining. Most conferences have a digital timer mounted on the lecture. Some of these timers count down (from 20 minutes to zero) while others count up (from zero to 20 minutes). You will not know which type you will be working with, until you arrive at the lectern, so you must be prepared for both. As you proceed through your presentation, compare the time listed in your notes against what you see on the timer. If you are falling behind, you will have to eliminate material. Decide in advance which material you will eliminate if you run short on time.
• Speak for approximately 80 percent of the time that has been allocated for your presentation. This will ensure adequate time for questions and answers. The worst thing you can do is run out of time and have the moderator end your presentation.
• If your schedule permits, take some time to visit the lecture hall prior to the presentation day. Walk up to the lectern and try to become as comfortable as you can. This will reduce some of your anxiety.
• Before answering any question, take time to repeat it to the audience. If someone in the front row asks a question, the person in the back row probably did not hear it.
• Some audience members are afraid to ask questions in a group setting. Be prepared to answer questions after you step down from the podium.
Business and trade conferences offer presenters the opportunity to share their messages with a large number of people—who have often traveled long distances. By taking some extra efforts, you can ensure that your presentation at one of these events will be a meaningful experience for all of those who chose to attend.
Steven A. Koch has been teaching classes in presentation skills since 1997. He has taught hundreds of students, from more than 30 states and several different countries. He has given presentations at various technical symposia and is particularly interested in scientific and engineering presentations. Contact him by e-mail at email@example.com.