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Stand Out for the Right Reasons: Nine Memorable Conference Presenter Mistakes

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In tough economic times we have to maximize every opportunity we have to connect.

With competition at unprecedented levels and budgets tightening, having 30-second, one-minute, three-minute, five-minute, and 10-minute elevator pitches that layer on each other cannot be a luxury or remain on a to-do list.

You have an opportunity to build your brand every time someone asks "what do you do? Who do you work for? Who are your clients?" Your value-proposition pitch is your conversation starter. And as the conversation grows, delve into the next layer, then the next, to build your credentials, and rapport, while sharing more information.

A little preparation goes a long way to delivering success—but most pitches are lost in the preparation, not the delivery.

When we are given the opportunity to stand out from our competitors, we must be memorable! What will standout so that people who are there will tweet positively about your company, your presentation, your product? What will they remember? What will they say about you?

In times like these, we cannot afford to be ordinary if we have a coveted speaking position at an industry gathering or the opportunity to guest-post or write an article for a publication. When you have a golden opportunity to connect with all of the audience, a conference cannot just be about swapping business cards with a subset of the audience after the presentation.

I was recently at an event where four companies were given 10 minutes each to pitch their services to the audience. Are there many better opportunities to get your name out there?

In a business where technology is at the core of the solutions these companies provide, not one spoke about the technology, the interface, the design, the usability, or their customer service.

Sure they all said that their outcomes were the best; that they were ranked No. 1 by the leading metrics company; or the biggest by sales; or by having the most sites indexed or whatever other metric shows them in the best light.

But it is not always what you say but how you say it: Not only did they all sound somewhat the same, none were memorable. In short, all four companies blew the opportunity.

As we see our day-to-day communications becoming more connected, shorter, and more efficient, we will rely on increasingly more streamlined information delivery and less on detailed PowerPoint presentations. Especially in our increasingly shorter-attention-span society. (I am not against PowerPoint and think it is a great tool when used appropriately.)

You are the message. People buy you before they buy your product. You would not recommend repurposing a TV, print, or radio spot for online video, and you should not repurpose a PowerPoint handout for a slideshow presentation.

Thinking about the conference presentations I have seen lately, I put together the following list of the areas in which the presentations were lacking. If your presentation is monosyllabic and non-participatory, with a high number of the following issues present, you should rethink your presentation strategy.

  1. Branding—No company name and logo anywhere to be seen except on the title slide
  2. Contact information—Nowhere to be seen
  3. Takeaways—No handout, take-away, URL, or email address for a copy of the presentation
  4. Unreadable slides—Too much information!
  5. Text—One slide with a four-line summary; one-third of the screen consumed by an irrelevant image; and 17 bullets!
  6. Bar charts—No three-line explanation followed by two side-by-side bar charts each with seven criteria and 10 levels.
  7. Pie chart—No slide with a large pie chart, an index of over 30 elements—plus the index reprinted outside the chart on one-third of the screen
  8. Clients—Not three pages with 80+ small logos on each page
  9. Screenshots—Not 6 screenshots on a slide; or 8 screenshots in the header and in the footer, with 9 bullets in the middle.

Don't miss the memo! There are thousands of presentations, blogs, podcasts, books, and courses on presentation skills and what constitutes bad PowerPoint. Read them!

Don't miss the golden opportunities that conferences and pitches present to promote your company, to highlight your people, and to show your technology solution in a differentiated way.

Be memorable in a good way, and don't leave people wondering about whether your poor performance is correlated to your company's performance. You are potentially far worse off delivering a mediocre or bad presentation than if just sitting there observing as an audience member.

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Gary Cohen is founder and managing partner of Speakery (, a marketing and business transformation company.

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  • by Dave Wed Feb 18, 2009 via web

    Sorry but this article has nothing to do with marketing and is bland, obvious and lacking in insight. "You are the message"? Please!

  • by Christina Tue Aug 3, 2010 via web

    I enjoyed this article.

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