Thinking about a conference …

by Mike Clayton  - October 3, 2012

As the conference season approaches, I remember the time I have spent in the past designing and hosting conferences. �I would like to offer some timely advice on how to make sure your conference presentations are memorable ��� for the right reasons.

Establish clear objectives ��� and stick to them

Decide right up front what your conference is for and then ensure that every component contributes to your objectives.� Be ruthless.� Journalists have an expression:��slaughter your darlings��- no matter how proud you or your colleague is of a particular contribution, if it does not support your objectives, then it is a distraction.

Take your audience on a journey

Like all journeys, conferences have a beginning, a middle and an end.� At the start, people need to know where you are taking them and, by the end, they need to feel that they have arrived at some place important.� How you design the overall structure of the day and balance your presentations will determine how easily people move from on place to the next and the sense of achievement that they have at the close.

The impact of your presentations comes from emotion, not ideas

Of course the ideas and content of your presentations are critical to their relevance and credibility.� But if you want your audience to really �get it�, the impact they will have on them will depend on the emotional responses you evoke.� Design the programme, the fillers, the visuals, the sound and the presentations to engage people by their hearts and in the gut.� This is especially so if your conference deals with any form of change.

Variety is the spice of your conference

The most popular entertainments create a wide variety of content, moving from idea to idea, image to image, presenter to presenter.� So too should your conference.� We best assimilate information when we are entertained and fully engaged.� Therefore you should aim to create real variety in your content, the style of your sessions, and the processes you use throughout your programme.� Your longer sessions should also be varied.

Leave them wanting more �

Short, sharp contributions are nearly always best.� You want your delegates to go away saying��that was great; if only there were more�.� If you give them more then you risk riding the slope of diminishing returns at best, and pricking the balloon at worst.� Eighty per cent of your impact will come from twenty per cent of your material.� Leave the rest of the material to other means of communication.

People love stories: we are story-telling creatures

Encourage your speakers to make their presentations real and relevant by telling stories.� Abstract theory and ideas do little to engage most listeners (especially in the hours after lunch!).� Using stories and choosing sensory language that refers to what people actually feel, hear, see and do will hook your audience at the emotional level and make your ideas seem solid.

There are six winning formulas for talks that get attention

If your speakers each use one of these formats (they can also combine them), they will increase your chance (and their own) of scoring a hit.� The first, of course, is lists, top tips etc.� People love to collect lists.� Second, people also love to hear a provocative assertion either justified or taken apart.� When you state something radical, it immediately engages your listeners� brains.� Third, we all enjoy predictions about the future – whether it is about technology, society, finances, or anything else.� A related format is to present the findings from a survey of other form of research: especially when the audience can compare themselves to the results.� Most of us enjoy a juicy statistic.� Then, we have the case study format.� Remember how we love to listen to stories.� Finally, we all want to know �How to ��.� How to cook a great meal, plan a stunning garden, double our sales, remember names or even fill our conference with excellent presentations.

Check that each presentation is structured to deliver results

Encourage each of your presenters to think about these four magic questions:� �What is the story I want to tell?�� �What can I do to make my story persuasive?�� �How can I tell it in a compelling way?� and �What can I do to give my story power?�� Respectively, these questions focus on the message, the evidence, the way you tell it and how you make the story relevant to the audience members.� Each presentation must have an engaging introduction, a logical structure and a killer close.

Make sure that each presentation is memorable

�� or what is the point?� Here are two quick tips.� Firstly, use the magic number 7, plus or minus 2.� This is the largest number of items or ideas our minds can focus on at any one time and therefore constrains our short term memories.� So, go beyond five key points at your peril. �Secondly, we have four ways to get an audience to remember the key points of our presentation:� they will often remember the first thing we say and often the last too.� They will also remember anything we repeat sufficiently often and finally, they will remember anything that stands out enough.� Make your key point at the start, at the end, often and in an innovative way.� This also applies to your conference as a whole, so make sure several speakers refer to your major conference messages.� Now, let me repeat all that �

High quality and accuracy are rarely remembered or appreciated

However, low quality and errors will be remembered and remarked upon widely �� forever.���The evil that men do lives on; the truth is oft� interred with their bones�.� Pay particular attention to your visuals – their content and presentation.� There is little as bad as unreadable text, typographical errors, tired clipart and clashing colours.

Energise your programme with an external speaker

An external speaker will transform your conference with an outside perspective.� Try inviting a customer at a sales conference, a supplier at a supply chain conference, or a representative from a professional body at an HR or accounting conference.� Whoever you choose, remember the first point in this article – be sure that they help you to meet your objectives. �And, of course, professional speakers are always an option.

Practice makes perfect

Maybe so – but it certainly will iron out the major problems, help you to make improvements, and give you the confidence to relax and enjoy the event.� When you relax and enjoy yourself, so will your delegates.� And that is what it is all about.

Coming Soon…

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