9 Suggestions for Presenters From a Frequent Conference Attendee

Confession: I am neither a frequent presenter nor a frequent conference organizer. I have done and continue to do both of these things on a sporadic basis, but could hardly be considered an expert.

So who am I to be offering suggestions for giving a presentation? I’ll tell you who I am: I’m a frequent conference attendee. These suggestions are presented from the viewpoint of someone who has seen many presentations in his lifetime, some good, a lot bad. These suggestions are presented from the viewpoint of someone who just sat through two days worth of presentations at the AMA Task Force meeting, and a number of times thought, “Man, I really wish they would have _____.”

Obviously, some of these ideas are more serious than others, but I think they all deserve consideration. So without further ado, in no particular order, here are my “9 Suggestions for Presenters From a Frequent Conference Attendee” (Why only nine? Because I swore I would never do a “Top 10” list on this blog.)

Into music for presenters. I love this idea and I’m dying to see somebody try it! C’mon, you’re telling me you wouldn’t sit-up and pay more attention if a speaker walked onto the stage while “Welcome to the Jungle” blared in the background? Even better would be if they came strutting down the aisle to their intro music, like it was a championship boxing match. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but what a great tone to set for your presentation! I’ve tried to convince several people to walk to the podium with “Eye of the Tiger” playing, but, alas, no one has taken up my suggestion.


Encourage smart phone use. During one of the breakout sessions I attended at the AMA Task Force, I glanced around the room and counted no less than half the attendees doing something on their phone. Seeing as I was the only one tweeting from that session, my guess is that most of the others were doing something unrelated to the conference. Since a large percentage of conference attendees are going to do SOMETHING on their phones, I think presenters should embrace it and encourage it. If they’re going to be on their phone anyway, give them something to do related to your presentation. Give them a QR code to snap or a website to visit. Have them send tweets or email with questions to a monitored hashtag/account. Give them a reason to use their phones to engage in your presentation and they’ll be much less likely to use it to do something like going on Facebook to complain about the boring presentation they’re currently sitting through (I have NEVER done that. Ahem.)

Wi-Fi in the conference room. I suppose this suggestion – née demand – is more for conference organizers, but I would insist on it if I were a presenter, for all the reasons listed above. Honestly, the main reason I included this was so I could yet again express my annoyance that the AMA Task Force meeting did not have WiFi in the conference room. Inexcusable.

Yell at people whose phones ring during your presentation. Seriously people, it’s 2011; learn to turn off the ringer on your freaking phone! I’m constantly amazed (and appalled) at the number of times phones go off in the conference room. I’m all for whoever is at the podium when this happens to call out the person whose phone is ringing with a simple but firm, “Please turn off the ringer on your phone!” I guarantee that calling attention to it in a public manner like that will cause everyone else to check the ringers on their own phones. It’s much better than just ignoring it.

Don’t force people to move to the front of the room. I mean it, don’t. It makes you sound whiney and by forcing your audience to do something they don’t really want to do, it starts your presentation off on a negative note. If you want your audience to be engaged and interact, then you want them to be comfortable. Some people are more comfortable sitting in the back. I’m tall, which makes me a bit self-conscious about sitting in the front because I know people have a hard time seeing when they’re sitting behind me. If people are sitting in the back because they want to sneak out early, let them. It’s much less distracting for everyone else if they sneak out from the back than from the front. Worry more about creating a presentation that will hold everyone’s attention and less about where everyone sits.

No laughter is better than uncomfortable laughter. If you’re not funny, don’t try to be. If you’re not sure if a joke is appropriate, it’s probably not. If your joke hinges on race, gender, or sexual preference…skip it. A keynote speaker at the AMA Task Force meeting told what I would consider to be an inappropriate joke. That’s the one thing I remember from his presentation.

Answer more questions than you raise. When I go to a conference, I generally have a few questions in mind that I hope to get answered. Few things are more frustrating than going to a presentation you hope will answer some of those questions, only to find that not only does the presenter not have answers, they end up raising even more questions. This happened multiple times at the AMA Task Force meeting. In the end, I would have preferred they not even have the presentation rather than raise my hopes that I was finally going to get some answers.

No reading. I’m embarrassed I even have to mention this, but after last week, apparently not everyone has gotten the message. It’s bad enough if your presentation is basically you reading bullet points off a slide, but there is never a reason you should be reading paragraphs of text as part of your presentation. You’ve lost the audience after two sentences. Just…no.

If saying, “I know this is hard to read” is part of your presentation…change it! If a slide has so much text on it that the audience can’t read it, then they also won’t be able to read it on a “3-up” handout. So what’s the point of even having it? Unless you’re trying to make the point of holy-crap-we’ve-got-so-much-info-we-can’t-even-fit-it-on-this-slide, change it and make it so people can read it and get something out of it.


4 responses to “9 Suggestions for Presenters From a Frequent Conference Attendee

  1. Your last three suggestions for presenters ring very true–I was at the same conference as you–AMA Provider/Industry Task Force. Especially “Answer more questions than you raise.” Examples of practical solutions are always a very worthwhile part of an effective presentation. But perhaps what we experienced at the conference provides some commentary on CME right now, or at least the perspectives of the speakers/leaders we heard from? Do they have more questions than answers? There are a lot of people working in the trenches who are experimenting with or who have found practical solutions. Seems like we don’t hear from them much at these conferences, although I found the Medical Education Company discussions to be more open and collaborative in nature, with reasonable solutions/practical hints being shared among those reticent to share in past years–very refreshing. Perhaps this is an indication that we are feeling a camaraderie in challenging times.

    • Excellent points, Derek. I noticed the same thing at the MEC CoP session; my thought is that the smaller size of the group may have contributed to people opening more than usual. If that’s what we need for more collaboration and sharing of resources, I’ll take it!

  2. I didn’t hear it at the Task Force meeting this year, but how many CME provider conference presenters have you heard say some variation on “Do as I say, not as I do” at some point during their sessions? Good list! The question is, is anyone listening?

  3. I agree whole-heartedly with all of these but in particular, “Yell at people whose phones ring during your presentation.” Maybe not yell, per se, but comment. This happened about 6 months ago in church and, with about 300 people in attendance, the senior pastor stopped speaking, looked at the person and said, “Do you need to take that? ‘Cuz we can wait.” Everyone, including the offended, laughed, but I honestly haven’t heard a phone ring in service since. The same should be true of conference attendees as well. I think a huge issue is that people don’t feel they can disconnnect for ANY length of time, including when they are supposed to be learning.

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