Conference presentation – a history, part 1

Simon Raybould presentingPart one of a two part set about a huge presentation I did recently 🙂    In this part I’ll take you through the chronology of what I did to prepare and what happened.  Part two will look at what I learned 🙂

The picture is me. I’m the one in the dark suit, pointing – not the cool guy on the slide. What was I doing? I was opening a big conference – the annual, national training/development conference of the UK and Ireland’s Professional Speaking Association.  Yes, that’s right, I was telling the country’s top professional speakers how to speak.

So no pressure then.


presentation countdown

All the time before

For several years now I’ve been working on my fitness. We’re not talking about Mr Universe stuff here, but it’s important to be fit for what I do, as a speaker/presenter for two reasons:

  • presenting takes a lot of energy: if you’re not on form you’ll just ‘go through the motions’ and that’s never good.  It’s particularly bad in business or corporate presentations where there might be low energy in the room from other people if they’re not an enthusiastic, voluntary audience
  • the life-style of being a professional speaker and trainer is physically demanding.

Okay, so the last one might not apply to you but you’d be surprised by how tiering it is to get up, travel, perform and travel back.

I’ve obviously been honing my presentation skills constantly. After (almost) every session I use a reflective practice technique called the Rolfe Methodology.  It’s perhaps not the very best technique but it’s a very good one and has the advantage of being so simple I will actually do it. (No point in the best tool ever if you don’t get it out of the tool box!)

Software and hardware are up to date and checked.


And here is what the presentation looked like to the audience…

It’s a bit embarrassing when you get a crowd at the end, not least because all I want to do when I come off stage is take some decompression time. But it’s worth it for comments such as “justified my conference fee in just that first 45 minutes” and “the most useful presentation I’ve ever attended”. 🙂    So whatever it looks/feels like in the other column, it worked for the audience.

You can see what one of the country’s top speakers thought on my Linked-In profile – scroll down to read Joy’s recommendation, for example. (Joy is one of the country’s top pro speakers.)

Or how about two videos? Check out the ‘to iPhone’ thoughts from people at the conference. Start with Heather – one of the country’s most highly paid speakers…


Month before the presentation

A few things happen in the longer-run in to a big presentation. The most obvious of which is that it’s researched and written. Obviously!  Rehearsal times are scheduled and – importantly – the technical specifications of the venue are requested.

The most obvious information I need is the resolution of the screen/projector, as quite a few of my slides need to have a very precise layout. Not a problem when you take time to test things.   Export to PowerPoint (from Keynote on my Mac) and three hours later I’ve salvaged the mess PowerPoint makes of everything and formatted to the right resolution.

Week before the presentation

Rehearse. And a couple more rehearsals.  To be honest fewer than you might think, because this isn’t a presentation I’ve created specially for the conference: I was invited because of a presentation that I did that the conference organiser saw.

Check and confirm the travel and accommodation. Check them again. Make sure the travel information, tickets and so on are on my iPhone.

Given all the unknowns of presenting at a new, unknown conference and an unknown venue, we’d planned what we could in advance. Walking times between the station and the hotel had been checked – so there were no nasty surprises. Similarly, breakfast times, and walking times from the hotel to the venue were sorted. Don’t get me wrong, I’d not memorised the routes, but I’d just taken ten minutes to check that google on my iPhone knew the routes and gave me safe estimates for travel.

If I’d not been happy about walking it, I’d have checked out the public transport etc.  The idea isn’t to be a control freak but rather to mean that as much of my head clear for the gig as possible.  You can’t perform your best if you’re worried about getting lost on the way to the venue or if you don’t arrive in time.  (I always make sure I have time spare for a cup of tea!) As soon as I say it, it’s obvious common sense!

One last thing – given that I might not sleep well the night before a big gig, I made sure I’d had plenty of sleep for the few days I could earlier in the week. You can’t store up sleep, but you can at least minimise the effect of a bad night’s sleep by at least not starting out knackered!  🙂  You know you should do these things – turn off your phone, darken the bedroom etc: it’s just a matter of having the self-discipline to follow the advice for a good night’s sleep.

Boilerhouse Hair

Oh, and because even the best of us can do with some cheap-trick support, I got a hair cut here😉   And did I mention the gym so I look good in a suit? 🙂

Night before the presentation

Being fresh for the performance is important, which brings with it the need for a good night’s sleep. How does that work? Out for a meal, a single glass of wine and a few exercises.

I did a quick video a while ago about the significance of getting sleep, but the key point is that sleep is good!  🙂   If you can’t sleep the night before presentation

Morning of the presentation

I’m not precious and I don’ t have an OCD-like ritual. What I do have, however, are checklists. We call them Ties-and-Flies lists (sorry – bad joke!) to make sure that anything which can be checked, is checked. The less that’s left to chance the better.

Stretches, shower, breakfast, dress. I’ve gone to the trouble of pulling out my suit, so wow-do-I-look-good!  🙂     And off I go to the venue, scheduled to arrive 30 minutes before I need to be there, with plenty of spare time, just in case… which is good, because… … … …

Just before

If everything so far feels a bit too nice, here’s where it all goes wrong. Remember I said I’d carefully checked the screen resolution and spent half a day sorting my slides out to work in 16:9? Well the venue’s actually got 4:3.  FFS. Really?! Actually the problem is worse than that, because the screens are 16:10, it’s just the projectors that are 4:3. So now there are two problems.

The first is that I need to spend the hour I’d normally be going through my slides and getting my head “in the game” (which to be fair most people call “having a cup of tea” 🙂 ). I need to check they work 4:3 and discover to my total lack of surprise that they don’t.  An added irritation is that the venue is using PowerPoint and it take me longer to do anything on PowerPoint than it should, but that’s just annoying and if I wasn’t in the middle of a problem wouldn’t have even hit my “irritation radar”.

The second problem is more subtle. Because the screen is bigger than the projection, any slides with a white background or an image background just sit there in the middle of the screen looking less cool than they should. You can see that effect on the picture at the head of this blog for one of the slides I couldn’t correct. There is, at least, good news hear as it’s a problem I’ve come across before and partially as a result of that, I have a black background whenever I can. The main advantage of the black background is that it’s impossible to tell when the slide stops and the rest of the screen begins.



I have no idea what happened 😉     Well, of course I do, but that’s not the interesting part of this blog and I’ll talk about it in part two.

Immediately afterwards

This is the embarrassing bit and – for introverts like me – often the harder part of a presentation is coping with the audience before and afterwards. To cut a long story short, it turns out I can blush – just see the reviews and you’ll understand why.

Shortly afterwards

Every presentation gets two things from us – in theory.  Hopefully we follow up and we do some Reflective Practice.  The latter is done using the Rolfe Methodology which I’ve talked about briefly as part of Confidence Month.

Follow-ups are scheduled and in the diary of course, but that doesn’t mean then happen. They should, but real life intervenes  🙂

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