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The 1-minute guide to good conference presentations


Photo by Civilon

I’ve attended a lot of conferences this year. Attending talks and plenaries is a wonderful opportunity for my own professional development, and I often get to see excellent presenters in action.

During the past few months, I’ve been keeping notes on what makes some of these conference presentations so engaging (and others less so). Here’s a 1-minute guide to being a good conference presenter.

Good presenters…

…pitch their talk at the audience
If the presenter is talking about blogs, they first find out who in the audience already blogs. If their talk is pitched at teachers of young learners, they first check how many young learners teachers there are in the audience (and therefore how many are not). If they are talking about specific mobile devices, they check who has (and hasn’t) got these devices. Knowing who the audience is, is the first step.

…grab the audience’s attention from the start
An audience is most receptive during the first 5 minutes of a talk. Starting with an anecdote, story or joke can keep the audience with you, whereas starting with inconsequential rambling will simply alienate them.

…include a variety of focus
It’s extremely difficult to engage an audience in a 60-minute lecture, no matter how talented the speaker. We have short attention spans, and in the age of Twitter, our attention spans are getting shorter. Good presenters provide a variety of focus by including video or other media, or pair work, or a Q&A, or a story/anecdote part way through, so that attention is not continually focused on the presenter.

…include examples
Good presenters don’t assume that their audience automatically knows what they are talking about. They provide concrete examples. So if they are talking about class blogs, they show an example. If they are talking about PLNs (personal learning networks) they give examples from their own PLNs. If there are talking about literal videos, they show one.

…focus on student learning
I get to see a lot of talks with teachers showcasing (usually web 2.0) tools. Unless this is related to what students actually learn, it’s pointless. Good presenters highlight both how the technology enhances student learning, and possible challenges (with suggestions of how to overcome these).

…pay attention to body language
An obvious one. Good presenters use body language to communicate confidence, and also an appropriate degree of formality or informality. A presenter may think that sitting barefoot and cross-legged on stage during a plenary looks cool and confident, but it is usually inappropriate and off-putting for the audience. Unless, perhaps, you are in Southern California.

…take tech issues in their stride 
Things can go wrong. PowerPoint may crash, sound may not work, the projector bulb may blow… indeed, in some cases the electricity make go off. Good presenters have strategies for this e.g. they put the audience in pairs for a quick task while things are repaired (if possible). They are also able to continue their session acappella if necessary.

…present offline
No matter how wired up the venue, good presenters don’t rely on an Internet connection for their talks. At the very least, they have an off-line version of the talk in case the connection is unreliable, or non-existent. Instead of showing a site live, they have screenshots prepared. Instead of streaming video, they show it off-line (respecting copyright).

And finally, good presenters …

…watch out for cables!
The tangle of cables from the laptop, projector, sound and ADSL connection create a nasty birds nest for presenters to trip over. Believe me, I speak from personal experience. Good presenters ask the tech team to tape tables to the floor, and then keep well away from them. On the other hand, one can make a talk more memorable by taking a headlong dive caused by tripping over the cables.

What do you think? This list is by no means exhaustive (it’s to be read in 1 minute). If you present, or attend talks at conference, what do you think makes a good presenter? Please add any thoughts to the Comments box below!

Nicky Hockly
The Consultants-E
December 2012

Other 1-minute guides:


  1. Great list! Let’s add something about effective visuals. No more than 5 bullets, no more than 5 words per bullet. Even better – a photo to make the point. Less is more!

    1. Nicky Hockly says:

      Good point Anne! Thanks for dropping by.

  2. […] The 1-minute guide to good conference presentations – e-moderation station […]

  3. Mariana Manolova says:

    Thank you, Nicky! This 1-minute guide is very useful for any presenter, regardless of audience!!!
    On a side note, if you were in Bulgaria, you would have a name day! Today we celebrate St Nikola!
    Best wishes,

    1. Nicky Hockly says:

      Hi Mariana – glad you like the post. I like the idea of a name day, we have them here in Spain where I live too, but my name isn’t on the list of recognised saint’s days (except for San Nicolas – but that’s a man’s name here!)

  4. Jerry Schiffman says:

    Know when to stop! The topic may be the most important to the presenter but same is not necessarily that to the listeners.

    1. Nicky Hockly says:

      Good point Jerry. Some conferences wisely have a time keeper in the background, who will cut off a speaker if they go beyond their time limit :-)

  5. Shamblesguru says:

    Nice … and precise.

    I’ve added a link to you …


  6. […] good conference presentations Posted on 5 December, 2012 by Simon Thomas Nicky Hockly shares her one-minute guide to delivering better conference presentations.Share this post:Bookmark on DeliciousDigg this postRecommend on FacebookGoogle Buzz-up this […]

  7. Sangeeta says:

    Hello there,
    I have been asked to do a Workshop on Digital Literacy in a KSA for women. And I wondered if you had any slides to go along with your Video that I could use.

    1. Nicky Hockly says:

      Hi Sangeeta,

      I assume you’re asking about this video on digital literacies: http://www.theconsultants-e.com/resources/EdTechBytes/default.aspx . I don’t have any specific slides to go with the video, but you are welcome to play it if you think that will be useful.

      You can also find some other resources on the topic on our website here:

      Please feel free to use any of these, although we would appreciate your acknowledging the source. By the way, you’ll notice that we use the plural ‘literacies’ in the term ‘digital literacies’, rather than referring to a single literacy – a small but important point:-) Best of luck with your presentation!

  8. Sangeeta says:

    I wonder if you any slides to go along with your video on Digital learning and if I could use them?

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