It only helps the good presenters

Over the years I’ve been to countless conferences and witnessed every conceivable level of presentation – from the amazing right through to the depressingly awful and that goes for both speakers and topics.
I vividly remember one session where the speaker was interminably dull and spent the whole session with his back to the audience. On that occasion I felt compelled to stay - in the hope that he would turn around and I’d see his face when he discovered that most of his initially sizable audience had silently crept out!

Choosing an event speaker isn’t an easy task and if the organiser is stretched to breaking point then speakers can just become one of the things to be ticked off the list, rather than getting the focus they deserve. The speakers and their topics are the most important aspect of any conference and should be the main focus of the organisers from the outset.

It is also imperative that a speaker is properly prepared – nobody wants a “Michael Bay episode” at their event. Look at the session through the eyes of an attendee. Does it answer everything the programme said it would? Is it pitched at the right level? Is the content strong with a consistent flow? Knowing what to expect and tweaking certain aspects beforehand can save a lot of disappointment.

But what does any of this have to do with technology?

Well, there are always new gadgets and tools that are being touted as the next big thing to revolutionise presenting - from wearables which control your presentation to 3D and holographic projection. If you believe the hype, organisers may come to think that even the poorest speaker can be transformed with the right kit. But honestly – unless you’re one of the world’s best presenters and have a lot of time for rehearsals - this sort of technology is not going to make the slightest difference. No technology in the world will make a poor presenter look good and their sessions won’t suddenly become riveting by the inclusion of technology.

It should be turned on its head: only the most competent of presenters should even think about incorporating tech into their presentations.

I know a few conference organisers who refuse to allow any of their speakers to control their own slides. They reckon that they have enough trouble delivering their speeches effectively without having to remember to press a button at the appropriate moment. Even great speakers can have difficulty pressing the right button only once, but we have people who want to complicate life for these poor souls. I’ve seen suggestions that speakers will control graphics by waving their hands in the air. There’s even a product that enables speakers to tweet stuff while they’re standing at the lectern.

We should be working with speakers to teach them how to deliver a really good presentation, not distracting them with technology. Organisers need to focus on the basics – get the speaker and content quality right and that will be enough to satisfy the most demanding of paying delegates.