Have You Presented at a Large Conference Before? Any Suggestions?

This February I will be presenting at a state technology conference in Virginia. I've been to enough presentations to know what I don't like, and being the perfectionist that I am, I want to make sure I don't make those suffer who attend. I get these pictures in my mind of a bobbing head up front that sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher (the trumpet sound). What advice do you have for keeping your participants actively engaged? What did you do that was successful? Did you do anything that made you say, "I'll never do THAT again?" When you got your evaluations returned to you, did you learn something that can be shared with other presenters? Thanks ahead of time!

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A great wealth of ideas, Michal--I appreciate your expertise. It always helps to hear from those who have been there!
Hi Brian,
You might like to read an article I wrote about having students do presentations at conferences, it talks a lot about preparation and what to expect - probably good for anyone who hasn't presented! (PDF Download)

My top 3 tips would be video, video, video. My next 3 would be edit, edit, edit. Having short clips (less than 2 min) throughout your talk is a terrific way to make it real. Even stills with a Ken Burns effect makes you look like a pro.

But I would disagree that humor is ALWAYS a good idea - I'd say only if you are naturally funny. Be yourself. There is nothing worse than a joke that doesn't work.

Finally, there is no perfect answer for every audience member. Some people are going to love you, some won't. You of course want to have more in the first column, but forgive yourself for those you can't please.

I know, for example-- I hate audience participation. Much of what I see is so contrived. Please don't ask me to turn to my neighbor and discover three interesting things, or write down answers that you aren't really going to use in your talk, or the worst, have us stand and do some relaxation technique. I will not forgive you. I know though, I've sat next to attendees who LOVE that sort of stuff. To each his own...

I just don't see that much use for audience participation in a typical conference session. I always tell people they can interrupt me (and they do!) and leave time for discussion at the end.

It's fun in a terrifying way. Really!
I agree with Sylvia about the audience participation, most of the time it is contrived and a waste of time. I also think a lot of time can be wasted in "hands-on" workshops (I'm sure many will disagree). Years ago I took an 8 hour workshop on using Photoshop, and after the workshop was over I could barely open a new canvas! I reiterate, access to what you have talked about through good handouts, webpages, wikis, etc are going to be more helpful in the long run.
I'm sitting here at my desk in my office in a morning stupor plugging through my list of emails...zzzzzzzzz....KONK...and read your post. I had to laugh! It woke me up and is good information the chew on. Now, where's the coffee pot?
I think the type of audience participation is critical. Saying that you hate it is kind of like saying, "I hate thinking during presentations". If the questions you're talking about are higher-order, like applying the new knowledge/concepts to your context, or hypothesizing based on data, or connecting emotionally to the topic (not to a random side issue) it creates an entirely different environment than a "sit and soak" presentation.

If your presentation is on video and has no interaction, why give it at a conference at all? Just post it online and let people post their questions.
Hi Jeremy,
I didn't say that at all. I said that I hate contrived audience participation, which I see SO much of. I love a presenter who makes me think. I hope I make people think during my presentations, and I keep my sessions really open so people can speak up when they want to, not only at the time I designate.

I also did not recommend that the presentation be "all video" - you are right, that would be really boring and uninvolving. I recommended using very short video clips (as opposed to slides with bullet points) to illustrate your points.
It's a shame I can't show you what I've been able to put together from all the recommendations so far...colleagues have stopped by my office and said, "Huzzah! (Col. Wmsbg. is up the road)" I've put small video clips on to show proof of the pudding from what teachers are doing in their classrooms with technology.
Hi Brian,
You know that another benefit of doing this is that you are celebrating these teachers and students accomplishments in a public way. it's showing them that someone notices all their hard work and cares. The fact that people from all over the state will see this as an example of good practice and learn from them is really motivating!

it might be interesting to do your session in front of these classrooms and let them (teachers and students) see their own work through your eyes. The next time you need video, you might find that they have anticipated your needs because you showed them there was an audience for it.
I am presenting at a conference for the first time next month. I am still wondering why I ever said I would do it. I am building a wiki to house all the information about the topic. I also have a number of short video clips, about 1 min. each, to show solid examples of what is happening in the classroom. There will be some hands on. Here is the wiki. It isn't 100% ready yet.
Thanks, Colin--I'm wondering the same thing!
Hi Brian,

I have been presenting now since 2003 and I have to say I was very, very nervous at the beginning, (and still get nervous). I had two presentations to give at my first conference and one was a complete flop and the other went over fantastically. My first - I didn't feel comfortable with the topic, I had been given parts of somebody else's presentation to use, I tried to include things that others told me to, and there were parts I just wasn't sure about. All this equalled disaster!

My other presentation was on using ICT in my classroom with real examples of kids work, movies, photos, audio grabs, as well as 'paper' work samples that I had set up on a table and we could pass around. This went over so much better because I was comfortable with my material, it was real, and part of my classroom.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the success and challenges in your journey. I find that people like to hear about some of the challenges because they can either relate to them or they half expect them to be there! Then there can be discussions about how they were or could be overcome.

I do find that it is important to engage the audience with a question, or something to think about. But it is important to read the audience and if they have had a whole day of this with other presentations then they may not be in the mood.

Depending on my topic, my handouts will differ in format. Sometimes they are things to read and discuss, other times they may be a run down of something such as Art Costa’s Habits of Mind, or how to instructions. Some handouts I have used are samples of kids work with annotations. All depends. However, I do like the idea of directing the audience to an email address, web page, delicious account, etc so they can do a follow up in their own time.

Good luck Brian, I am sure you will be great.
Hi Brian -- Speaking at a conference is easier than you would think because the interest and focus of the audience makes you comfortable very early on. Unlike a teacher professional development where some are grudgingly there, conferences attract those bright, inquisitive, and keenly interested participants.

My advice? If you got accepted with a proposal that has a schnazzy title, make sure your content is every bit as exciting. Nothing like going to a workshop that says "Using Web 2.0 Tools to revolutionize assessment and inspire learning everywhere" to find out that they're talking about rubistar and google pages... The crowd you speak to at an edTech convention is hungry for innovation and if you promise it, be sure to deliver or that pleasant, enthusiastic crowd turns cold.

Jim McDermott



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