Speaking at a conference can be very daunting. Here’s some advice for anyone supporting new conference speakers.
New speakers are often incredibly nervous on stage. It’s natural – even seasoned conference speakers still get nervous – I still ask myself “Why Do I Do This?” before each talk.
Here are a few tips on how to support new conference speakers.
Watch the video or read on below.
1. Ask if they would like some help
Try not to inflict help.
Instead, ask if your friend/peer/colleagues would like some help and some resources.
If they say No, then leave it at that. If they say “Yes”, then point them at your favourite resource for presenters.
My go-to guide that has helped me greatly and I read every single year is The Presentation Coach : Bareknuckle Brilliance For Every Presenter. It’s great.
Of course, there is always my Super Power Communication Workshop, packed full of foundational communication skills for the modern workplace.
2. Before the talk do three things
I try to find the conference speaker about 30 minutes before the talk and do three things.
Firstly I encourage them to drink some water. It can be easy to skip water as you do last minute presentation changes.
Secondly, I give them words of encouragement and make it clear that they will do great. I listen and help with any logistics like handing out materials, helping people get seated or setting up slides.
Thirdly, I take their mind off their talk by telling a story or a joke – something light hearted that will get them smiling. This works a treat at settling nerves.
A big thank you to Kristoffer Nordstrom, Michael Bolton (not the singer) and James Lyndsay– all of whom, whether intentially or not, did some or all of this step. It helped me greatly – thank you.
3. Leave them alone 5-10 minutes before the talk
Everyone is different but I’ve observed that most people like the 5 minutes before the talk to get themselves prepared.
I like to sit and breathe deeply – walking through my opening sentence or two.
Others do meditation, others read, others tweet, others don’t need this time to prepare. Let them have the space they need to get ready for the talk.
4. Smile and give feedback
Sit somewhere really visible in the audience and give them visible feedback during their talk. (Unless they have told you not to 🙂 )
Smile, nod, laugh – anything that gives them positive feedback that they are doing ok.
They may choose not to look at you, but if they do – make sure your feedback is positive.
And yes, even if they are bombing I’d still give them encouraging signs so they can keep their composure. If they truly are descending into presentaion hell, then looking at you with your head in your hands or with a look of fear on your face is not going to help. Support them with very visible positive clues.
5. Start the round of applause and ask questions
Be the first to start the clapping and if no questions come forther, be the first to ask a question. Often it just takes one person to start the questions before more flood in.
6. Speak to them after
Go and see them after.
Congratulate them and ask them how they feel the presentation went.
This is probably not the time for feedback on what they did well, or what needs improving. Just kind words.
7. Give them feedback
As hard as it may be you should give them feedback, if they want it.
Always ask if they would like some feedback and be diplomatic in how you present it.
It’s not about crushing them, it’s about giving them constructive advice (or well formed opinions) on how they can improve, if indeed they need to.
Of course, be sure you’re speaking from a place of wisdom and experience. There are plenty of people with strong opinions on how a presentation should go without actually have the experience to support this.
Done correctly this can be invaluable. Thank you to all who have done this for me.