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Zen and the Art of Conference Presenting

by Lara Haehle  |  
August 27, 2012

I've done my modest share of presenting and attending conference events. This year's WebVisions Portland, which several of my colleagues attended, and where a colleague also spoke, inspired me to write about conference presenting.

I felt, as did many attendees, the pressure of holding back the ocean for two or three days while away from the office. But like others I met, I was seeking insight about our industry. I heard many inspiring things, but I also heard quite a few confusing messages.

My attempt at Zen is to provide feedback to presenters everywhere, so here are some lists about what is excellent and what is less than excellent (based on examples from my experience at WebVisions).


Explore your passion

You've made a name for yourself by doing something that is relevant to most conference attendees. A presentation with a brief history and meaningful highlights from your experience, especially when delivered from your own personal passion, is pretty excellent.

Even if attendees don't learn anything new, or even if they consider your subject matter somewhat bizarre, they end up inspired.

Specific props to keynote speakers Nathan Shedroff and Chris Noessel, who discussed "Sex and SciFi" and managed to do it in a practical yet engaging way by relating each fictional example to a real-life counterpart

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Lara Haehle is marketing manager at White Horse, a Web marketing, design, and strategic consulting firm. Reach her via

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  • by Mike Lovas Mon Aug 27, 2012 via web

    Interesting piece.

    I was horrified by the tips, asking, "Do people actually mount a stage and make those 'bone head' mistakes?" Then, I reflected on the presenters I've coached. Yep. I know that many people who deliver presentations should exercise some professionalism and do their homework before-hand: learn how to create a presentations that is actually 1) interesting and 2) can hold the audience's attention.

    So, Lara, take heart, there are "bone head" presenters in every industry.

    - Mike

  • by Allie Mon Aug 27, 2012 via web

    This is some really excellent advice. Having passion for a topic that's backed up by real life experience is the best way to ensure that an audience feels inspired by your talk. When giving presentations, we can learn a lot from Bruce Springsteen's performance style:

    Thanks again for a great post!

  • by Deborah Smith Mon Aug 27, 2012 via web

    I started my speaking career after attending a really bad presentation. I went in excited to learn more about the topic I was so interested in, and as you described, it didn't live up to its title. I ended up leaving frustrated but thinking, I could do so much better than that. So I set out to do better than that. I took public speaking classes, read every audience feedback form, and continue to improve with every show. Tony Robbins used to insist that audience members tell him one thing they didn't like about his presentation. It's hard to hear, but good speakers make sure they listen and make the appropriate changes the next time. Thanks for this feedback on your experience, it was very helpful.


  • by Amanda Bernard Mon Aug 27, 2012 via web

    I'm so glad I saw this article! I'll definitely keep these things in mind while I'm crafting my presentations for the upcoming GAUGE and OMS conferences in October. Thanks for the great tips, Lara!

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