I just finished my last session at the Social Media Plus Conference in Philly. I was excited to attend because there were a number of presenters whose blogs and twitter ID's I follow and wanted to meet face-to-face. You can see my conference related tweets on my Twitter feed with the hashtag #SMPlus. It was my first wholehearted attempt at live-tweeting at a conference.
These conferences give me the opportunity to see a bunch of smart people present about topics (I think) they're passionate about. Unfortunately for them, I can't watch a presentation without my presentation designer's eye. It's the same reason I won't play in a backyard volleyball game. If you've played volleyball for 15 years like I have, you know what I mean.
I was pleasantly surprised with the caliber of presentations. Not only from the content perspective, which is generally good at conferences that cost hundreds of dollars, but by the presentation design and delivery. I blogged about the Search Engine Strategy Conference presentations a few months back and I'd say that these were better, especially for a smaller conference. Now, the content at SES was higher level, but that's neither here nor there.
Instead of walking you through the presentations I thought were great, I'm going to simply list the things they did well and a couple pitfalls a few presenters fell into.
- Leave the confines of the podium/stage and engage the audience
I was pleasantly surprised when Frank Eliason, aka @ComcastCares (who I was excited to see present), immediately left the podium, walked off the stage and stood in the middle aisle amongst all the audience members. He told us "I don't do presentations...I don't do "decks"...I have conversations." Fantastic. I've said before that while I believe PowerPoints can help enhance your message in certain situations, they aren't necessary for a successful presentation. Jason Falls also made his way from side to side on the stage to make sure he made eye contact with audience members on all sides of the room (a much bigger room than Frank presented in).
- Use big, high resolution images
A number of presenters including Rohit Bhargava, Jason Falls, and Bill Lublin used big images and very little text on their screen (although I tweeted that Bill could have lost the unnecessary template which only added noise). Naturally I found all three of these presentations very interesting and engaging. Not simply because I enjoyed the content matter or because I'm a presentation designer. They were interesting and engaging because my attention was nearly always on the presenter and their images reinforced their messages so I understood their points better. I usually only see one or two presenters in an entire conference use the "big image, few text" style of presentation design, so I was pleasantly surprised to see 3 in one day.
- Be interesting and even a little funny
Trust me - I'm the first one to tell you that being an interesting and funny person isn't something you can just "wish" upon yourself. If it were I'd have a gaggle of girls sitting beside me right now, laughing at all my jokes. I found Frank Eliason, Jason Falls, and Bill Lublin all to be extremely engaging and at least made an effort to keep insert some humor into the presentation (it can't always be work, work, work, right?). Naturally, not every joke worked, but that's okay. Even when I didn't think the joke was all that funny, I appreciated the effort. When a presenter is on stage presenting content that they don't even seem interested in or find enjoyable in any way, it's utter agony for the audience. Perception is reality when it comes to presenting. If you seem like you're having fun up there, the audience will have fun too. Jason seemed like he was having a great time and I'd give him the award for best presentation of the day. He offered great content and let his personality shine through.
- Always think about your audience - Would you want to see that??
I did sit in on a few forgettable sessions and the Twitter feed confirmed I wasn't the only one who felt that way. While the presenters will remain nameless, a few designed their presentation in the "old way". They used long lists of bullet points, slides cluttered with text and small images all over the place, and font so small that I guarantee only 10 percent of the audience could even read. If they were in the audience instead of presenting, would they want to see these slides? In those sessions I found myself starting to multi-task. I was catching up on work emails, news, and other sorts. It's a shame because I was excited for the content that these particular sessions promised to provide. Maybe they did provide it, but I doubt many people retained any of it. Their poor presentation design and lack of concern for their audience's well being as students eager to learn left a bad taste in many audience members' mouths.