Presentation Skills

My presentation setup...

My presentation setup… (Photo credit: Timothy Greig)

Things to know when presenting your panel or any presentation for that matter:

Use the Mic

I don’t care how loud you think you can talk, how small the room is, or how much you can project your voice, use the microphone!  Nothing like seeing a panel where they’re giving a lot of good, useful information & you can’t hear a single word of it.  Even if the room is small, there’s always the issue of noise coming in from the neighboring panel room(s) and from outside.  So, even if the room is relatively small, you still may not be able to reach the ears of those in the back of the room on account of all the extra noise.  Also, this makes it easier to regain the attention of the audience if they get too hype, or to drown out the annoying dribble of “that guy” at your panel.  So use it!

 

Face the Audience

Face the audience when you speak.  It makes it easier for people to hear what you’re saying and it goes along with having an air of confidence about yourself when presenting anything.  If you’re too nervous to at least face the audience & speak into the mic, then you honestly shouldn’t be presenting.  Work out those kinks before you come to a con because it’s hard to pay attention to a panel when the panelist can’t even pay attention to the audience.

 

Make Eye Contact

Occasionally make eye contact with those in your audience.  This way, it’s like you’re talking to them vs. at them and it feels like you’re creating the atmosphere of a nice discussion vs. a boring, long, & drab lecture.  Also, this helps you keep tabs on the interest level of people simply by viewing their either bright and eager faces or bored and vacant expressions and being able to adjust accordingly.

 

Speak With Authority

I don’t care what the issue is, whether it be on your personal opinion or on a hot-button issue, speak like you know what you’re talking about.  Most times, if you at least sound like you have an idea about the issue at hand, people will listen without question, with the occasional “experts” who may be pissy because “they know more about the topic than you do.”  However, if you speak really timidly & like you’re unsure of what you’re talking about, no one’s going to really take you seriously. Even if you could be an expert with a PhD in the field that you’re talking about, if you come across as being really hesitant, nervous, and apprehensive, you’ll just seem like a “n00b” giving their first presentation who needs to do a little more research on their topic.  Mind you, ‘speaking with authority’ on a topic doesn’t mean not allowing anybody the chance to ask questions or make comments, it just means that you need to have confidence & familiarity on the topic you’re presenting.  Likewise, saying “I feel” or “I think” or any other equivalent phrases doesn’t mean you’re being too passive or weak, but it’s what you say when you’re stating something that’s your opinion or is subjective.

 

Don’t Be Nervous

This goes almost hand-in-hand with speaking authoritatively about your subject.  If you’re really nervous, you can’t really focus, concentrate, speak clearly, and a whole plethora of other issues.  Worst yet, you might even render yourself unable to present depending on how you function under nervousness.  One of the ways to avoid this is to practice your presentation constantly either in front of friends, family, or to yourself so you can become more comfortable with your presentation.  Another way to avoid this is having a co-panelist more comfortable with presenting help you with giving the panel.  However, the best way to deal with this is to know your topic inside & out as well as your presentation.  Usually the combination of these 2 things greatly decreases any nervousness or renders it to the point that you can conquer it completely once you get on a roll with your presentation.  So, don’t be nervous!

 

Practice

Especially for those who get really nervous when presenting, practice your presentation.  This also helps if you will be using a lot to present your topic, like videos, slide shows, music clips, etc.  By doing this you also help familiarize yourself with your presentation.  Lastly, practicing your panel will help you work on the timing and pacing of your presentation so you can make sure you finish within the given timeslot.

 

Proofread Visual Aide

For any presentation that will have text displayed at any point, proofread your visual aide multiple times!  Of course if you have a picture slide show, you won’t have to worry about this, but for those who tend to be type crazy, you do.  It’s one thing when there’s less than 4 typos throughout the whole presentation, all of which aren’t horribly noticeable/huge errors, it’s another thing when every other slide/whatever has an error on it that’s really noticeable (spelling character’s names wrong, erroneous information, forgetting to mention really important things [on accident], etc.).  So, please, proofread everything that’s going to be displayed to your audience.  Of course, your personal notes you use to read off don’t need to have the same level of scrutiny, but things the audience will see does.

 

Focus

In order to make sure you talk about all the things you need to talk about & to stay calm if you get nervous easily, focus.  Also counts towards focusing on your main topic so you don’t go off on really long tangents that take away from your panel.

 

Avoid Long, Meandering Personal Stories

Like mentioned above, don’t do this because it detracts from your panel.  This also can rob you of much needed time if your panel’s running a little over-time as far as pacing is concerned, & will basically seal the deal of causing your panel to go over time/be cut short because you’re too busy talking about things not on your actual presentation.  Lastly, to be perfectly honest, nobody cares about why your cosplay didn’t really work out when you’re presenting a panel about feminism & video games, so don’t bother going on unnecessarily long tangents about essentially nothing.

 

Make Sure Everyone Presenting Has a Function

Nothing like going to a panel where there’s 7+ people “presenting” but only one person is actually doing anything.  Don’t do this!  You only need people co-paneling who are actually serving some function, not extra bodies who seemingly are there because they want to take advantage of panelist reimbursement.  It’s because of happenings like this that lead cons to develop tighter panel reimbursement policies that make it so you have to have X amount of programming hours/panels before you can receive a 100% reimbursement/free registration.  Also, these happenings are probably what lead cons to develop policies where only X amount of co-panelists can receive reimbursement due to some of these groups being so large.  I don’t care if it’s one person’s sole job to operate the laptop, one to actually talk, a couple to answer questions, etc., etc., everybody needs to have a function, a purpose, for sitting at the front of the room.  Sometimes this happens because the lead panelist didn’t crack the whip enough to make sure everyone pulls their weight; sometimes people are too nervous to talk; sometimes the ones not talking are the ones who did all the grunt work for making the presentation; sometimes the main one talking is just stealing the limelight from everyone else, who knows, there’s a lot of reasons for why this happens the important thing is to not do it.  Whether it be having more of an iron grip on those co-paneling, sharing the spotlight, assigning everyone roles during the presentation, whatever, just make sure everyone is justified to be up there.

 

Make Sure Everyone Talks (When Necessary)

In the case where everyone presenting is expected to talk, make sure this happens.  Sometimes it’s an issue of having a group member who just loves to talk…regardless of whom else may be talking, sometimes it’s the exact opposite where a member may hate talking publicly but they’re still a part of the group.  This can be remedied by having a clear, defined group leader who makes sure everyone talks when needed to, as well as assigning different parts of the presentation to different people to make sure everyone says something at least once, and making sure everyone follows through.  Also helps that for Q & A, you go down the line of panelists for answering questions to make sure everyone answered at least one question.  Ultimately, a lot of this is just group management and work delegation, so as long as you can stay on top of these things, everything else should be able to occur much smoother than everyone doing what they want.

 

Don’t Forget Your Notes

In the case where you plan to read off notes for the presentation, obviously make sure you have these with you when you go to present.  In a (near) perfect world, you’ll have a laptop with a case that you can shove your presentation notes into, so you’ll always have them, but—just do this, because it’s the best way to make sure you have them >.<*  You should still know your presentation enough that you can go on with or without your notes, but if you plan to have them, make sure you remember to bring ‘em.

 

Bring Something to Drink/Stay Hydrated

Like mentioned in pt. 2 of the basics mini article series, always bring a bottle of water/tea to drink.  If it’s really hot, you need this to stay hydrated & to keep from passing out.  Besides this, you need to bring water to keep your mouth moist & to keep from having to deal with all the issues that stem from having a dry mouth; i.e., frequent coughing, trouble speaking, slightly foaming at the mouth, etc.  Usually cons provide water coolers or pitchers, but this is a relative crapshoot from con to con, never mind whether either is filled due to con attendees using it.  So, instead of relying on the more than unreliable inclusion of water in rooms, bring your own.

 

Set-up Early

Most cons have some sort of grace period from panel to panel, whether it be 5 minutes or 15, that will allow panelists time to pack up, get out/unpack, set up.  Take advantage of this!  Don’t come waltzing in with 5 minutes to spare/right on time.  You’re leaving yourself no time to deal with any possible technical difficulties that may occur, and you’ll cause yourself to rush and possibly mess up/forget something when setting up your stuff.  Additionally, the audience typically has little to no patience if the panel doesn’t start on time, let alone if you’re, basically, late for your own panel.  It’s one thing when there’s extenuating circumstances (having to run from one side of the con to the other due to having back-to-back panels, etc.), it’s another when you’re late just ‘casue & you aren’t able to set-up quickly.  So take advantage of the set-up time & set up early.  If the con doesn’t provide this kind of time, show up about 15 to 20 minutes before the end of the panel before yours so you’ll be ready to go, but you should do this regardless if they give you some set-up time or not.

 

Address Audience, Not Each Other

If there’s nothing that screams unprofessional when giving any type of presentation it’s when the panelists seemingly have a chat amongst each other vs. talking to the audience.  A panel is for educating an audience about some topic you have a vast amount of knowledge about, not a social event for you & your friends.  No one likes going to panels where it seems like it’s nothing but inside jokes amongst the presenters accompanied by fumbling through a poorly put together visual aide, no one, and you can best bet attendees will complain about it on the forums/feedback.  A group of panelists are all there to present on the topic at hand and give their varying viewpoints, opinions, etc. on the matter to the audience and eventually answer questions/comments from the audience.  Presenting in a group can be fun because it alleviates the workload on any one person and can form long-lasting bonds between the lot of you, but there’s still business to conduct with an air of professionalism, at least ‘professionalism’ in the since of being able to successfully present a topic to an audience without making it seem like it’s a party for the presenters.  This is one of the things that would push me more towards recommending going solo on presenting panels, because you’re less likely to be distracted by friends & can focus more, but this can be easily remedied if there is someone on the board of panelists that makes sure everyone stays on target.  In either case, you’re there for the audience, not for your friends.

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