Friday, April 29, 2016

Putting Murphy down: 10 tips for successful presentations & workshops

Giving a presentation -- talk, workshop, seminar -- can be daunting. But it doesn’t need to be a disaster. Unlike a recent memorably bad workshop session I sat in on.

The presenter came into the room cold, discovered nothing was set up correctly, didn’t have all the  technology that was needed, and was Mac-ready but was offered only PC tools.

The presenter essentially had an emotional breakdown while others, including participants, tried to fix things. Only four people stayed while the problems were being addressed.

Even after the workshop finally got underway, nothing worked well. And then it became painfully clear that the presenter was expecting a different audience.

Witnessing the meltdown of this hapless presenter brought to mind a few essential tips that can point you toward presentation and workshop success.

Heed these ten tips to ensure a successful and positively memorable workshop:
  1. Room: Check your room at least an hour before your session. Make sure it’s configured the way you want it to be and that you have everything you need.
     
  2. Equipment: Know your equipment and how to use it. If you aren’t bringing your own laptop and projector, then make sure you learn how to use what’s provided. Or, make sure there’s a convention staff-person in the room who knows. Especially avoid letting a member of the audience try to jump in and help -- they seldom know anymore about the technology than you do and will just be a distraction.
     
  3. Technology: Be prepared for total tech failure. Be ready to -- gasp! -- carry on analog. Don’t be dependent on the technology. Have paper handouts, a flip board with markers, or some other back-up materials at the ready.
     
  4. Content: Have a clue about your audience. Don’t assume you know who will be there. If you’re presenting at a conference of professionals, don’t think just because the conference welcomes student attendees that the bulk of your audience will be college kids. Pay attention to who shows up and adjust to your audience.
     
  5. Flexibility: Be Mac and PC agnostic. Be prepared to have to use either. This goes back to point number 2. If you’re aren’t bringing your own equipment and you prepared on a Mac, there’s a good chance your room will be PC-centric. Carry your files on a thumb drive that can be accessed by any computer.
     
  6. Accuracy: Read all the pre-event documentation about you and your presentation. Just because you provided a description doesn’t mean it wasn’t edited or embellished or even inadvertently swapped with another presenter. Be sure what you intend to present is what your audience is expecting. Inform, correct, and adjust as needed to clear up any confusion.
     
  7. Awareness: Avoid leaning on the equipment while presenting. That laptop may not be as secure as you think it is. While you’re talking and facing the audience, the screen behind you may be out of focus because you’ve bumped something unawares. Pay attention.
     
  8. Professionalism: Let it go. If something isn’t working the way you expected, stop fiddling with it. Move on. Again, be prepared to go analog. Keep the focus on your presentation and keep going as if nothing is wrong.
     
  9. Time: If you say there’s going to be a Q/A period, manage the presentation to make sure you actually leave time for questions! And end the session at the time it is scheduled to end, even if you started late. You’re not the only show in town; there are other workshops starting right after yours. People need to move to other locations and the next speaker needs to set up the room.
     
  10. Prepare: Rehearse! Make sure you can actually get through the 30 or 50 slides you’ve prepared in the hour allotted for your workshop, and leave time for a Q/A. Ten slides are probably more than enough for an hour.
Keep in mind that Murphy's law -- Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong -- is alive and well and ready to wreak havoc with your workshop or presentation.

Don’t let it infect yours! Get inoculated! The antidote to disaster is thorough preparation, contingency planning, and professional savvy.

Follow these ten tips and you will be a presenting and workshopping star!





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What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you as a presenter? How did you handle it? What’s the worst workshop you’ve ever been in? What went wrong? Did the presenter ever recover? Are there any additional tips you can think of? Please share your advice and experiences in the comments!

May this never happen to you!



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