Strategic Human Capital Insights

6 Things to Avoid for Your Next Conference Presentation

Rear View of Young Office Workers in Casual Outfits Listening to a Top Manager Explaining Something Using Illustrations.In the past, I have written extensively about How to Make a Killer Presentation.  There are many do’s and don’t on the topic.  Recently, I attended a 3-day conference, (or attempted to try to make it through a 3-day conference).  Sitting in the audience, I was continually reminded about everything that went wrong with the presentation process I was witnessing.  So, I felt compelled to share the experience, and some of my observations, with the hope that you don’t do any of these mistakes in your presentation.  Always remember, there are humans sitting in the audience.  Don’t make them think twice about staying for your presentation.


  1. Plan the Conference Daily Agenda with People in Mind: Each day ran for 12 hours – yes, you’re reading this correctly – 12 hours!  What were they thinking?  Who can keep 300 people engaged for that long?  You have to really think highly of yourself to think you can be that interesting for 12 hours! 

  2. Provide an Agenda: You may think I’m kidding when I say there was no agenda for three days!  Who does that?  Clearly there was an agenda that they didn’t want to disclose – so they didn’t.  What we got was:

    10 AM – 12 PM – General Session
    12 PM – 1 PM – Lunch on your Own
    1 PM – 3 PM – General Session
    And so on!  I’m sure you get the gist.

    People paid money and devoted time to you.  Respect them enough to give them an agenda.

  3. Great Conference Presentations Don’t Just Happen - Have a Variety of Presenters and a Variety of Activities and Methods: For a majority of the conference, there was only one main speaker – whom I guess thinks they are the sole authority of everything.  The presenter randomly spoke for 2 hours at a clip with no roadmap and no depth on anything.  The presenter flitted from one random topic to another.  It was a mental train wreck and so painful for the audience.  While the presenter was generally a good speaker, there was no content supporting anything!

    Read all of the blogs in our Presentation Skills series.

  4. Enough with the Visuals with the Cute Pictures and Sayings: This went wrong on so many levels. 
    • Overkill with only one type of visual – cute pictures and sayings.  I can read that on greeting cards and motivational posters.
    • The AV / logistics were wrong.  The presenter was in the middle of the room and the screens with slides were off on the far right and far left.  There was no synchronicity between the presenter and the visuals.  From the audience perspective, this was very annoying.  Of course, there was no real substance on the visuals, so you really didn’t need to look at them, which leads to my next point.
    • Put substance on your visuals or just don’t bother.
    • Know the content of your visuals – 100%.  Don’t ever say, “I saw this visual while I was preparing, but I didn’t know why it was in the deck and I don’t know why now!”  Did you ever hear of the delete key?

  5. Feed Attendees, Please: If you are going to keep people in a room for 12 hours, it’s a good idea to serve more than coffee or tea from 8 – 8:30 in the morning.  Some sort of food should be provided throughout, even if it’s just crackers, cookies and mints.  And please have coffee and tea available throughout.   Needless to say, there were no snacks, and no lunch or dinner provided!

  6. If the Conference IS Really One Big Infomercial, Be Honest Up Front: This conference had nothing to do with learning, but had everything to do with selling you on buying their products and services.  After the first 5 hours, it was shameless advertising, baiting and intentionally holding back the secret sauce.  Shame on you!

    And so we sat through the first day for the full 12 hours and I was desperately trying not to be too cynical.  On the second day, we could only stay for 2 hours before we had to respect our brains, stand up and walk out.  Since we did pay for a 3-day conference, we did try to go to the third day.  But reason prevailed, so we packed our bags and left – quite sure we didn’t miss anything too thought-provoking.

    What would I like to share with you?  Remember, any time you’re presenting,  you are dealing with people who have chosen to give up their time to you.  With that, you have a responsibility to do the best you possibly can to ensure they walk out feeling it was a great use of their time.  Otherwise, you may have someone like me write about the experience – and that is not a good outcome! 

In our blog series on presentation skills, we focus on the elements of great presentations and provide a framework to follow that allows you to control your message so it creates the intended impact at the highest possible level.  Just click here to read all of our presentation skills blogs.

Read Presentation Skills Series >>

Topics: Presentation Skils

Posted by Joanne Flynn

Joanne Flynn

Joanne T. Flynn heads up the human capital advisory group, Phoenix Strategic Performance, Inc. Previously, she was a Managing Director with Phoenix Group International and was Vice President / Director of Global Learning and Development at Goldman, Sachs for nine years. Joanne works with organizations as they face global growth and competitive challenges. She works with her clients to be both externally focused and internally responsive. With her unique background, she aligns competitive strategic efforts with related internal organizational leadership challenges. With the benefit of her career-long focus, Joanne contributes the unique insight of aligning strategy to internal organizational structure and process. She focuses on human capital relative to strategic initiatives, accelerated business growth, value creation, and business development. Joanne holds a Master of Arts degree in Business Management from the University of Oklahoma. In addition, she holds a double degree major in History and German from St. Elizabeth University, as well as certificates from a variety of leading universities and professional training and development organizations. Joanne has recently published her latest book, Accelerating Business Success, The Human Asset Management Strategy.

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