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Beattie Tartan’s tips for organizing and giving a presentation

By Deirdre Campbell
Tuesday, December 11 2018


Presentations are one of the cornerstones of media relations and the marketing industry, helping us win business and learn new ideas and techniques. But too many of us have sat through presentations where we are talked at, with boring PowerPoints and little relevancy to what we were hoping to hear for our own professional development.

Presenting and facilitating sessions, panels and workshops has provided me with some of the best opportunities for my own professional development and I encourage everyone to get on stage to share their expertise and stories.

Speaking and sharing your experience is all part of being in business. Besides that, conferences and seminars provide excellent event marketing opportunities for our integrated communications agency’s clients – whether as organizers or as invited speakers.

I am asked to present a lot and on many topics, thanks to the expertise I have accrued over my years in public relations. I enter into each opportunity not with the idea of what I am going to tell an audience but with excitement about what I can share and how to engage with the audience.

My goal is to learn as much from the engaged dialogue as hopefully the audience does. This forces me to be entertaining, thought-provoking and approachable. Friends tease me that they don’t like sitting in my presentations because I am tempted to call them out with a question to start the engagement early on, signalling that I welcome interaction.  

I’ve split my advice into two sections – one for speakers, moderators and panelists, and the other for organizers. And if you’ve anything you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.

Presentation advice for speakers, moderators and panelists

  • Moderators are there to set up experts for success and manage the conversation, so everyone can contribute. Provide questions to panelists ahead of time. Keep your introductions short and remember the audience wants to hear from the experts – the moderator’s job is to guide the conversation. Don’t allow long-winded answers or be afraid to cut someone off. You are like a radio host with just minutes to help your panelists get a story or point across. A good panel technique is to finish with a rapid-fire round of questions looking for short answers.
  • Panelists should review the questions provided ahead of time and prepare soundbite answers. If the moderator wants more information, they will ask but be cognizant of time and the need for others to speak. Feel free to add to other panelists’ comments by signaling the moderator you would like to speak, but never interrupt anyone.
  • Technology will always let you down, even in rehearsal. I recently presented in China where I realized at the last minute the videos I hoped to show were from YouTube, which is banned. Luckily I had downloaded them on to a memory stick. Be prepared with a back-up plan, including presenting with no AV at all, in case that happens. This is why rehearsal time is so important.
  • When asked a question which is too complicated or unrelated to your topic, offer to meet during the next coffee break to address it and reduce your fumbling on stage.
  • Being the late afternoon, early morning or last speaker is always tough, so it is a good idea to build some interaction into your presentation to create energy in the room.
  • If you do have to leave right after your presentation, let the audience know and provide contact details on where they can follow up with you directly. You will be amazed how many will.

Presentation advice for conference organizers

  • Use a nomination protocol for speakers and ask for any video examples or references so you can see their presentation style.
  • While I don’t ask for compensation as I use speaking for business development, many excellent speakers make a living from it (for good reason) or are too busy to present on a regular basis. Be prepared to offer compensation, including hard costs. If organizing a new event with a limited budget but valid platform, be upfront about your inability to provide compensation for now. I recommend it be built into future budgets as it will go a long way towards securing top talent.
  • Always prep speakers well ahead of time with clear instructions, information on who is in the audience, who else is presenting and on what topic. Don’t demand PowerPoints unless they do – recommend imagery or graphics to enhance their points. Provide a template and encourage as few words as possible on slides. Encourage multi-media if there is time, but absolutely build in rehearsal time. One group I work with always holds a very informative conference call with all its speakers with all details of the event. This is recorded in case timing doesn’t work, with a link shared.
  • When I sense an expert may not be a comfortable speaker, I put them on a panel with a strong moderator. I keep panels small, with two or three presenters at most, and I rarely allow PowerPoint presentations.
  • Ensure all presentations, including panels, leave time for questions from the audience. Have someone other than your presenter (in the case of a panel, use your moderator) manage these questions and don’t be afraid to cut off someone who only wants to hear their own voice and not ask a valid question. Another good technique is using a question technology like Slid.o. Questions can be submitted using the smartphone app and shown on a large screen for all to see. They can be quickly reviewed ahead of time to avoid inappropriate remarks.
  • Ensure WiFi is strong – especially if using technology like Slid.o.
  • If possible, preview all presentations ahead of time so you find any common themes and reschedule sessions for better flow.
  • If offering multiple concurrent sessions, don’t be afraid to repeat sessions you expect to be popular. Be mindful of hosting a celebrity speaker up against someone who is not well known as chances are that the celebrity will steal the show – and there is nothing worse than presenting to an empty audience. A professional development morning I was at recently hosted three concurrent sessions which were repeated three times so delegates could attend each of them.
  • Be strict about time limits and ensure there is a timekeeper in the audience who can easily inform presenters when they are coming up against the clock. Again, build in time for questions.
  • If providing translation services, remind speakers to slow down to allow translators to follow. Vet your translators carefully as they can make or break an event.
  • If dignitaries are attending the opening session but have to leave, seat them off to the side and not noticeably in the front where speakers are left to address empty tables. Secure rows in the front for latecomers and in the back for those who need to sneak out.
  • Encourage speakers to attend the whole conference, leaving more time for engagement with the audience. The more time I spend at a conference, the better my own session as it can be tailored using what I see others presenting. You will be amazed at how many more connections you make during networking breaks.
  • If speakers are travelling a long way, be mindful of jet lag. Build in downtime before and after a presentation and do this for yourself if you are presenting.
  • In choosing speaker gifts, be mindful of airline carry-on requirements for out-of-town speakers and look into the option of shipping directly to their office.


Beattie Tartan is the integrated communications specialist. Call 800 400 3831 to learn how we can use the power of storytelling to boost your brand and grow your business.