First time conference presenter? Read this first…

One of the remarkable things about working at Projectline is the flexible nature of my job. I work from home and because I’m able to save time on commuting and have flexible hours, I’m also able to work towards my masters degree. I’ve been chipping away at a masters of Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning from Boise State University for the last two and a half years. I’m nearing the end of the program, and recently, one of my professors recommended I take one of my class projects and submit it to the 2018 International Society of Performance Improvement conference. Fast forward through a long proposal process, I was chosen to speak! This was my first time being on the other side of the glass and actually speaking at a conference and not planning the logistics, so I was very excited and jumped in with both feet. I learned a lot and came away with a list of tips and tricks for anyone that is a first-time speaker or attendee at a conference.


  • This may seem pedantic, but, make sure you know the exact dates of the main conference. Often, there are pre and post events that are not part of the main conference, but, the conference is broadcast as one set of days and often times there is not a clear differentiation between these activities. It’s also important to consider, these pre and/or post events are often not part of the conference fee.
  • Know your out of pocket costs. If you are not part of the society or organization you are speaking for, most likely, you will need to become a member before you can speak at the conference. Note that this membership fee may or may not be included in the fee for the conference. As a speaker, at least at the conference I spoke at, there was no break and we were beholden to the full conference fee. A good tip here is to ask for either company sponsorship or if there are any grants or honorariums from your organization or university. Note that universities may have these to help students, but, they may not be available until many months after you have spoken.
  • If you are traveling to your conference destination, be on the look out for group hotel rates, restaurant discounts, or group travel discounts. One way to defer the hotel costs is to share a room with a fellow speaker.
  • If you are not traveling, but instead driving, look to see if there is parking validation or early bird rates to tap into.
  • Ask about the food situation. Will meals and/or snacks be provided, or will you be responsible for your own food? Will there be receptions, happy hours, breakfasts, lunches?
  • Know upfront what sort of audio visual equipment will or will not be provided. For instance, do you have a newer laptop that is not compatible with older audio/visual plug ins? If so, you will need to bring your own converter or dongle. Do not rely on the event staff. A good tip here is to scope out your room or speaking area in advance of your speaking slot.
  • Bring your own thumb drive with your presentation loaded on to it as a backup.
  • Bring your own slide deck clicker – these are generally not provided.
  • Ask for an average number of attendees that are projected to attend presentations. If you are presenting later in the day, especially on the last day of the conference, expect that number to be lower than the average.
  • Carry extra pens if you plan to have an activity that the audience needs to engage in.
  • Be prepared for changes in the conference speaker line-up and have alternate sessions to attend should one be cancelled or moved.
  • Travel light – this cannot be stressed enough. There is a lot of walking at conferences and big back packs or bags will weigh you down. Same can be said for wearing comfortable shoes.

Know your audience

  • If you are not a previous member of the organization you will be speaking to, make a point to research who you will be speaking to. Look at the demographics of the attendees – what is the average education level, average length of time in the workforce, etc. This is key as when you are creating your presentation, even if in your proposal, you signed up for a novice slot, if there are no novices that attend the event, you will be prepared for who you are targeting.
  • If your audience is looking to learn something rather than giving an inspirational or report out presentation, make sure you know this as it will influence how your deck is created. People looking to learn something want takeaways – they want to be able to pass your deck on to other people or to refer back to it. If you create a deck that has pure graphics and you speak to all of your information (such as some presentation methods guide you to do), this does not play to your audience. You also want to create a deck that you can post to your LinkedIn profile and if all your content is in the speaker notes, you can’t post a deck that will be revisited.
  • Know the presentation expectations your audience will have. For instance, are they expecting to be a passive attendee or are they expecting interaction and a planned learning activity? If it is the latter, make sure your activity is tailored to your audience’s demographics mentioned above. Engaging in a novice activity with an experienced crowd does not go over well.

Audience takeaways

  • Ask what the expectation is on things you leave behind for your audience. For instance, will you give them a job aid, sheet of references, or a printed case study? Once this is determined, ask who will be responsible for printing and who will be responsible for the printing fees.
  • Print your leave behinds in color.
  • If printing an activity for the audience to participate in, do not print on both sides of the paper as this will split attention.
  • Print more than you think you will need in case of overflow.


  • Practice with a timer so you know whether or not you are going over or under the timing. Under is generally ok as it gives people a break from packed conference schedules, but, over time is generally not accepted.
  • Practice standing up, in a business style outfit.
  • Practice in front of other people.
  • Work towards being able to deliver your presentation without notes or note cards. The most engaging speakers are well versed in their material and only need the bullet points on their decks.
  • If time allows, join a Toast Masters group to hone your speaking skills.


  • Get ahold of the conference agenda early and see what is going on that you can attend and make the most of your time. Feeling shy? Show up and poke your head in, you will not regret it.
  • Attend early morning socials, receptions, dinners, networking events. People are all here for the same reasons and networking is one of those reasons.
  • Have an elevator pitch about what you do and what your skills are and if there’s anything you’re looking for i.e. mentor, information about the field, job prospects, someone to sit with at dinner.
  • Be on the lookout for networking opportunities big and small – see someone you kind of know, invite them to lunch, chat up the person next to you during the opening or closing ceremonies, participate and engage during presentation activities.

Bring business cards

  • If you don’t have business cards, make and bring them. This is essential for networking and staying connected. FedEx Kinkos, Vista Print, Costco, and Moo are all great resources for this.
  • For folks without cards given to them from work, include your LinkedIn account, email address, phone number and include a skill or role you are looking to have.

With the above tips and tricks in mind, you will be well on your way to a successful conference presentation. Good luck!


Sabrina Johnson has been with Projectline for seven years. She is currently pursuing her masters degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace learning and works to optimize both human and organizational performance.  In her current role, she manages an escalation process for Microsoft and Sabrina is also a part of Projectline Service’s onboarding team where she helps new consultants hit the ground running.