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My participation in conferences is almost always limited to the speaker’s side, behind a podium, or simply at a booth or on the show floor. I rarely participate as an attendee, but recently I had the chance to attend a conference simply to, well, do the things one does at conferences: attend talks and sessions, meet/greet others, and go to the demo booths!

Sitting in the audience I realized some speakers kept me quite engaged and others let my attention lapse a bit during their talk. Some conclusions from notes I took during talks I attended:

  • Don’t labour on the obvious
    If you represent a large, well-known company, say Intel* for example, but you are talking about a narrower topic, don’t spend five minutes repeating what your company is already known for (in Intel’s case, that would be semiconductors and processors). It’s ok to discuss the larger area to give context and perspective, but please don’t spend more than absolutely necessary (yes, Intel is in the semiconductor and processor businesses, I GET IT).
  • Unreadable slides are pointless
    If I can’t read the material on the slide it’s almost pointless to present it, especially if it has all text and no visual cues. And then to go on and read the unreadable-to-me text is simply punishment.

  • Easily digested slides build rapport
    As a counter to the previous point: easily read and digested slides are the opposite of pointless. Rather than alienate the audience, they help build rapport with the speaker as the audience internalizes the content and forms an opinion about it. And an easily digested slide ensures the audience won’t drown in details or attempt to listen to the speaker and read the slide at the same time, which may reduce comprehension.

  • Simple is beautiful
    Be clear, confident, and concise. Make a point and back it up. Don’t try to make ten points in the space of five, and don’t make references to related points unless they are in proper context. Stay on-topic and don’t ramble.

  • Make it worthwhile
    Make it valuable to the audience. If the objective is to introduce your product or service, make sure the audience leaves with a clear understanding of it. If the objective is to demonstrate complex and difficult achievements, let the audience leave with a sense of wonder. Don’t regurgitate a press release or blog. In most cases, people are in the audience attending your talk and skipped others that may be of interest because they felt yours would be more worthwhile.

By no means is this list even remotely comprehensive or unbiased, rather, it has just a few things I’ll keep in mind the next time I’m behind the podium.