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Three Ways to Engage Audiences in Conference Presentations

Three Ways to Engage Audiences in Conference Presentations

Start a management degree at American Public University.

By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management, American Public University

While attending the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) annual conference last month in Chicago, I noticed a practice that was quite refreshing. More speakers employed storytelling to underscore their main points across rather than spend 60 to 90 minutes on PowerPoint presentations.

I was excited about this trend because it helped me retain the important material being presented. It is very easy for me to get bored even if the material is currently trending.

For me, it’s all about the performance. If the platform is not engaging and entertaining, I will head for the door. My time and mental capacity are valuable.

Conference Presentations Have Altered in Style

Many conferences are now scheduling multiple sessions across a smaller number of time slots. PowerPoint presentations are accessible via downloads so audiences who miss one session can get the material later.

There are still presenters who overload PowerPoint slides with information that would better shared on paper. These presenters apparently never learned the concept of bullet points or short quotes. The presentation boils down to how well the speaker can convey information.

SHRM Conference Offered Different Types of Storytelling

At SHRM, I had the opportunity to experience three types of storytelling opportunities:

1. Giving of yourself: During this type of presentation, the speaker shares information about himself, which allows the audience to know something about the person as well as the motivation to speak on the specific topic and its significance. The autobiographical story is usually compelling and holds the audience’s attention.

I was at one of these sessions in which the 90 minutes were over and I felt like we were still at the beginning. The presentation impressed me enough to purchase several of the books the speaker had written and explore additional detail on his subject.

2. Putting the audience on alert: During this type of presentation, the speaker starts with a statistic that could be viewed as alarming and why people should attend the session. The session preview write-up is enough to get you there and the startling statistic keeps you there.

The session I attended fit into this category. The speaker spent a good deal of his introduction telling us that the HR position could become obsolete if something wasn’t done to change it. It was interesting to see the reaction of audience members as they heard statistics and practices showing how their jobs could end if steps were not taken to show how valuable the HR function is in the new model of work.

3. Letting the facts speak for themselves: During the presentation, the speaker focuses on a set of facts and circumstances about a particular situation. Each major point highlights why the fact is essential. The targeted audience for this type of presentation is professionals with specific daily responsibilities.

The session I attended fit this model. It centered on the legal aspects of remote workers and issues surrounding the liability of organizations for virtual employees, especially during the work day.

Instead of just a series of silent slides, the audience was encouraged to ask questions as each slide appeared on the screen. The value of this format comes from the direct knowledge on a particular topic about which members of the audience have questions.

There’s something for everyone at these conferences. With so much content to impart, it’s critical for speakers to make their topics exciting. Most speakers try to grab your attention as soon as they start, which often makes the presentation engaging

Storytelling Lessons Learned from This Year’s SHRM Conference Presentations

What did I learn at this year’s SHRM conference? Although the content was superb, I had another motive for critiquing the sessions I attended.

This year, I wanted to attend from a blogger’s perspective as well as gain tips on how to be a better presenter. I recognize the craft has changed since my last major conference and I want to make sure I am on my game when I rejoin the conference circuit soon.

I observed trends at SHRM that were in my comfort zone, such as “meet the audience where they are versus where you are. “ That made me feel good about going back on to the conference circuit. My strength is giving people what they need by presenting to the “middle” and encouraging the audience to let me know if they need something more or different.

By utilizing your personal style and the craft of storytelling, you can customize your presentations when needed. Also, storytelling allows the audience to be authentic and engaged, because they see the presenter as a “down to earth” expert versus a stuffy talking head.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.