IATEFL Liverpool: Catherine Walter’s How to Give a Presentation at an International Conference

11 Apr

“Among the most traumatic experiences in many people’s lives is giving a public speech.” Catherine started by admitting that she herself has made mistakes in past presentations and that she learned a lot from these mistakes. To save us from having to make all those mistakes ourselves, she offered advice for giving effective talks.

In a nutshell, came down to:

Tell people what you’ve got to tell them
Tell them what you want to tell them
Tell them what you’ve just told them

Simple enough, but she went on to give lots of useful tips. If you are planning to present at a conference, Catherine’s advice is indispensable.

Getting an audience
The summary and the title are really important tbecause they will first get you onto the conference program and get you an duaidence. You must make them transparent to make sure people understand what your presentation is about—don’t disappoint them or give them a talk they weren’t expecting. You can even make your abstract a bit sexy, but make sure it’s accurate first.

Make sure you stick to the word limit. The easiest way to get thrown out of conference selection processes is to exceed the word limit.

Give yourself two extra days. Don’t submit on the deadline, submit two days before.

Although this may sound obvious, Catherine reminded us to find out about the audience while preparing your talk. Don’t pitch too high or too low intellectually-speaking. If many are non-native speakers, don’t speak too fast and with a lot of idioms. Find out who your audience is!

Find out how long you’ve got. It’s much better to say a few things well than to rush through a lot of stuff. Give a good presentation this time and you’ll likely be invited back.

A lecture means an audience listening to you speaking, not listening to you reading. It also means the audience depends on your structure. They can’t rewind you to go back and re-listen to a part that wasn’t quite clear. When presenting new ideas, you have to be careful in how you present it.

Catherine illustrated this by introducing the topic of working memory by telling a short story about a work bench in her dad’s barn when she was little. She talked about the purpose of the work bench and what her dad did with it. This led up to what working memory is. The metaphor and building up to the idea, which was new, helped the audience connect to the concept.

Include varieties of interaction types in your talk, much in the same way you would vary interaction in class. Have a bit of pair work perhaps. Include pauses. Pepper the talk with stories in between the hard facts.

Make structure clear. Tell your audience when you’ll take questions so that they know this. Also, to be sure you get a quick round of applause, make sure you clearly signal the end!

If you must read from notes, mark your notes clearly so that they’re easy to glance at during your talk. Staple your notes together or put them on a ring. This way, if you happen to drop your notes, you just have to pick them up and keep going rather than also try to order them. Shuffling through your papers looks unprofessional.

Practice, practice, practice. This way you can plan pauses, which are key. Pauses are even more important than speed, so plan them!

Leave time for questions. Don’t plan to talk right until the end of your time slot. Sometimes the Q&A session leads to some of the most enriching discussions.

Mark timings on your notes so that you can pace yourself. Also include some parts that can be cut. There’s always a possibility that you’ll start late, so be prepared for this. You can’t simply run over into the next speaker’s time slot because you got started late.

Make sure important words are understandable. Don’t lose your audience because they spend time trying to understand an important word while you continue speaking.

Before you go
Prepare and check all the materials you need.

If possible email your powerpoint to the conference organizers and have extra copies on a USB key, just in case.

Find out how many people will likely be at your talk and make a few extra handouts because there may not be copying facilities at the venue.

When you arrive
Check that the details on the program are accurate regarding your talk. This will also help make sure that the audience comes to the talk they think they’re coming to.

If you’re away from home, make a little safe haven

Try to recruit a helper for the day. They can run out and get you water if needed, check computer plugs, etc. It will cut down on your stress.

Drink water, not coffee or tea. Not only are they stimulants that may make you jumpy, they make your voice a bit rough. Your voice is important in your talk, so don’t damage it with coffee and tea.

Get to the room early and check everything—make sure your visuals are visible from the back of the room. Also, save your powerpoint to your desktop. It’ll save time when you boot up your computer because you don’t have to go through your files. Also, you won’t risk forgetting your USB key in the computer provided on site.

Compose yourself. Take a few minutes to breathe slowly. It tells your body to relax and helps you feel composed. Catherine also said she sings to herself a bit before, just to prep her voice. You may want to try this.

During the talk
There may not be many people, but treat them like the biggest and most important audience in the world.

If you are not introduced, introduce yourself and what your presentation is about. This can give people who may be in the wrong room to get up and leave before you get started rather than a few minutes into your talk.

Use a presenter aid like a remote control to flip through your slides and liberate you from the podium or the computer.

Power point
Keep it simple—not too many numbers because people just spend time copying them?

Make sure your slides are clear with a sans serfi font like verdana or arial, with 24-size font minimum.

Remember that white letters on a dark background are hard to read.

Don’t try to make slides that are too fancy—they’re visually tiring in a long talk.

Be prepared for powerpoint failure. It happens to everyone and if you’re prepared, you won’t be stressed at the last minute. Have a plan B.

Remember that your audience can read—you don’t need to read your slides to them if you have a lot of text. Simply leave some silent time and let your audience read for themselves.

If you’re going to record yourself, make sure everything is in place well before. Check the microphones if you’re going to use it.

Decide what kind your handouts you will give
-sets of data
-key points

Also decide if you’ll give the handouts before or after your talk.

Your body
Dress appropriately for the context of the talk. Find this out before.

Wear similar clothes the day after your talk if you want people to approach you. It makes you easily identifiable.

Decide if you will move around and how much. Also, keep your gestures calm and measured. Don’t be really explosive. Also, make gestures across your body, not in front of your body. This will be more visually impacting for an audience sitting in front of you.

Other people: dealing with the audience

Latecomers: Carry on. You may want to recruit a helper who is sitting near the door to give handouts to latecomers if you give them out before your talk. If the latecomers are wandering around looking for a seat and distracting you and attendees, point out where there’s an empty seat and invite them to take it.

Respect questions. Repeat them if necessary and remember that it’s ok to stall and admit you don’t know the answer. You don’t have to know everything!

There is always a risk of hecklers. Keep calm when dealing with them and don’t let them get you riled up. You can turn their provocations into a discussion point, but don’t let them dominate.

This can be done by saying that you agree that you both disagree and that you’ll be happy to continue the discussion afterwards. Point out that other people may have questions and that you’d like to give everyone the opportunity to ask their questions. Be diplomatic and don’t get defensive—they’re not attacking you personally!

And true to her own advice, Catherine finished up by summing up her presentation and taking a few questions from the audience.


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