Create the Perfect Conference Presentation
By Jonathan Reddoch
So, you want to present at a conference, but you don’t know where to start. I have some basic steps you will want to follow. Some of these can be arranged a little differently depending on which comes first.
Identify a topic
You want to choose a topic that you already know a lot about. It might be tempting to choose something you want to research, but I recommend choosing something that, if you had to, you could discuss off the cuff right now, today.
You also want to pick a topic that an audience can benefit from. For example, for this blog post, I am speaking
to writers and editors who have some industry knowledge they want to share at a conference but don’t necessarily know how to go about doing it.
It should not be too broad or generic, but also not too niche or you might not connect with the audience either. For example, I recently presented at the League of Utah Writers Romance Chapter’s Romantic Letters event. When I created my proposal, I did not feel very confident presenting on writing romance, as I am a relative novice in that genre. But I tapped into a unique experience I had that I know would be useful to many writers: I was an indie publisher with inside knowledge on what publishers want from authors they work with. So, I narrowed that down specifically to the relationship aspects that publishers look for (good attitude, good communication, marketing and sales skills, networking, etc.).
You first need to figure out what unique knowledge you have that you can share.
Identify a conference
This part is relatively easy. There are writing conferences happening all the time. You can Google local, global, and virtual conferences to find their schedule and presenter application pages. It helps to be involved with writing groups and organizations. For example, I am a member of the League of Utah Writers and the Horror Writers Association, which both hold annual conferences.
There are other smaller venues you can find. For example, I attend several local writing groups that have an occasional member or guest presentation. Practicing before a small crowd can be a good way to hone your public speaking skills and get invaluable feedback on your presentation.
Make sure you tailor your presentation to the venue. For example, I have co-presented a workshop on making unique monsters to several audiences; we had different time constraints as well as experience levels when presented to various groups and we adjusted accordingly. Also, be aware that some groups that are larger may not be able to all share as well as smaller groups.
Creating your presentation
You need to decide if you’re doing a lecture or workshop. A lecture is a sage on the stage, meaning you will primarily be talking, with time for questions and answers. A workshop includes more hands-on and interactive elements (for example, writing and sharing and more involved discussion).
You’ll likely be using presentation software such as PowerPoint. Make sure you know how to use it. There are many guides to using the apps as well as making a good design. A common mistake is putting your script on the slides: DO NOT DO THIS. You can read from a script, if you need to, but with practice, you won’t need them to speak freely on your topic.
Try to insert a little fun and humor into your presentation if you can. Always have a friend look over your slides and make sure you practice giving your presentation. You want to make sure you get the timing right: you don’t want to have to rush at the end or get cut off (or finish way too early).
You’ll likely want to create a handout to accompany your presentation. It should add to the presentation and not detract or distract from it. Personally, I like to use a one-page with some helpful info and reminders of the main points. It can also be a worksheet.
So remember: think of a topic you know about, find a venue that is in need of that knowledge, create a lively presentation, and have fun! If the thought of public speaking makes you nervous, start with smaller groups and practice until you are confident you can present to a larger crowd.
Jonathan is the co-owner of Collective Tales Publishing, the publishing company for Collective Darkness. He is a father, an editor, an academic, and a lifelong learner. He enjoys writing several genres, especially horror and sci-fi.