Conference presentation – a history, part 2

Just like bands that are revolutionary and have breakthrough albums, and for whom the second album is always ‘challenging’ this is a bit of a ‘challenging’ blog.   Last week I gave you a pretty thorough chronology (and frankly a bit of a boring one!) of the preparation that went into a big conference presentation I gave a few weeks ago. This is where I unpack learning from that timeline.
Let’s start off with the good news. Pretty much, my systems worked. As you read through the chronology, you’ll notice quite a few times where I say things like “checklists” and “already checked the walking route to…”. All of those things are part of a – well not exactly a routine – but part of a pattern.
And there are two reasons I use an semi-structured pattern like that.
The first is the obvious one that it reduces the chances of anything going wrong. Nasty surprises in the morning about what time breakfast is served at a hotel can mess your day up, by giving you, for example, an unpleasant choice between eating breakfast or being late/rushed to the venue.  You need to eat breakfast and not be rushing, so that’s a bit of a PITA choice, right?   Does this sound like the voice of experience?   Yeah, I thought it might  😉
The second reason is that by using routines and checklists, I can relax a bit more. There’s quite a body of research which suggests that the brain gets knackered from decision-making and new experiences. Some people take this to extremes by, for example, always wearing the same clothing every day, giving themselves no choice about what to wear and thereby freeing up their brain-power for later in the day, when it’s needed. For me, that’s overkill and sounds a bit too self-important, but there’s certainly an advantage to knowing that quite a few things have been already decided.
BUT – and it’s a big but… some things didn’t go according to plan.
Take the screen resolution fiasco. The good news is that my routine of always flashing through slides before the audience arrives caught the problem – but the bad news was that there was a pretty significant problem in the first place. To be absolutely and brutally honest, I’m not sure what I could have done differently about that, given that I’d checked and been given simply the wrong information. What I’ve learned however, is that I should keep/send a version of my slides in all the major resolutions.  That’s not in a variety of formats for different versions of PowerPoint as I obviously do that already, but different resolutions. After all, it wasn’t as if I didn’t have sets of my slides in different set-ups, it’s just that I’d not got them with me because I’d been told something very specific.
The irony of this is that I once produced an ebook called Raybould’s Rules of presenting and the first of the five rules I gave was “Never Trust The Venue”.    I should take my own advice.
The second thing I learned here is exactly how much I rely on Presenter View.   If you don’t know it, that’s the setting on your slide software that means while the audience sees one slide, your laptop shows you something different. Typically it will show you the current slide your audience is seeing but alongside that it will show you:
  • your next slide
  • a timer / clock
  • notes about the current slide.
As you can imagine, it’s an invaluable aid for presenters, particularly if you’re not 100000% sure of your material. It goes without saying that I know my stuff well enough not to use Presenter View as a prop (It does, right?  Right?) but having got used to it, I really missed it. A couple of times I found myself glancing at the screen for half a second as the slide changed, to make sure it was showing what I thought it should be and that the technology had worked. Half a second isn’t much but it’s not perfect. Had this not been material I’d rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed it would have been a longer glace, possibly breaking my contact with the audience as I looked away from them and making me look less on top of my content.
That brings me to the third learning point! It’s all about rehearsal.    (Rehearsal is different from just “practice” don’t forget, which is just a subset of the rehearsal process!)  Something that nearly threw me was the layout of the stage – it was different to what I’d expected and there was precious little space on the stage where I could be raised up so everyone could see me, but not in front of the screen where I cast a shadow on my slides. (I used a tip I’ve explained elsewhere to make out the ‘safe’ parts of the stage).
Now, I’d rehearsed, certainly, but I’d only rehearsed with a vague, theoretical notion of the room’s set up in my head. Two better alternatives would have been to:
  • find out the exact layout of the venue in advance (but given that they couldn’t even get something as basic as their screen resolution right I’m not sure they could have handled more complicated and abstract questions about beam angles from projectors!)
  • rehears with several different room layouts mocked up, so that whatever I found when I got there I’d have been prepared for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t freaked out… this isn’t my first rodeo as they say… but it would have been better not to have had to think about it while I was presenting  🙂   (If you don’t believe me, head back to part one to see the feedback I got – and since that blog was release, I’ve just been invited to present at the International Speakers Summit by a booker who was in the audience.  Cool, eh?

Presentation conclusions?

8/10, I’d say.   It went really well but there’s always stuff that can be learned 🙂

Leave a Reply