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Preparing for a conference presentation? Don’t skip these 7 essentials

Every speaker is nervous, and the key to overcoming nerves is to be prepared. Channel that energy starting with these 7 essential steps.

6 min read




If you have the opportunity to present at a conference or industry event, congratulations! It’s a wonderful chance to share your expertise, promote your perspective as a thought leader, boost your reputation, and elevate your company’s brand.

While you’re certainly excited, it’s perfectly normal for that excitement to be mixed with a bit of apprehension (maybe more than a bit!). After all, like most conference presenters, you may not be a seasoned speaker. So take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in being nervous.

Every speaker is nervous, and the key to overcoming nerves is to be prepared. Channel that energy starting with these 7 essential steps:

1. Learn the purpose of your session

There are typically two goals for conference sessions:

Educational sessions. These are dedicated to sharing your knowledge, experiences, and best practices. Selling is typically not allowed in educational sessions.

Concurrent sessions. Speakers address main points and topics of interest to the industry, which can drive traffic to your tradeshow booth and generate leads.

Make sure you understand the purpose of your session so you can craft your message accordingly.

2. Understand your topic

What are you being asked to cover? If the host organization is writing the description or synopsis of your session, be sure to get that information before you prepare your content. You don’t want to end up with your audience expecting a different presentation than you are prepared to give.

3. Confirm your role

Are you a solo speaker? Or will you present as part of a team? If others are involved, confirm your role and responsibilities so you can prepare accordingly. Some examples are:

Teaming up with a colleague or customer. In this situation, team members have a similar goal. For example, an employee and a customer may team up to tell a customer-success story. Touch base with your co-presenter so you each understand what the other plans to cover and you’re clear about allotted times. Rehearse together to ensure you are telling the same story and supporting each other. Learn more about team presenting: “Teaming Up For Maximum Impact.”

Speaking on a panel. If you are one of several speakers on a topic, what is the perspective you are expected to represent? Also, learn about the other speakers. It’s helpful if you can hear their content in advance. If not, find out what you can by researching their point of view.

Here’s another tip: have a plan for what to do if others run over and your time is cut short. One useful strategy is to create a double ending: The first summarizes the ideas in your presentation, and the second drives your message home with an inspirational story. If you’re out of time, you can drop the second ending and still convey your key point.

Participating in a Q&A session. Is this strictly a question-and-answer format, or are you expected to give introductory remarks? Again, be sure you understand why you were invited and the point of view you bring to the event. Learn more about presenting on a panel: “Know Your Presentation Role: Deliver on expectations.”

4. Ask about the host organization’s expectations

The host will need information from you for conference publicity and materials. This can include a session description, your bio and headshot, and your media (slide deck, audio or video recording, etc.). Find out what you must provide in advance, as well as deadlines. Also, ask about other expectations they may have, such as participation in technical rehearsals and even working with onsite speaking coaches. These are great opportunities for you to hone your delivery.

5. Check your company’s internal review policy

Many companies have policies about pre-approving the content of presentations made by employees at industry events. Now is the time to find out your own company’s expectations, so you can build that approval process into your timeline.

6. Develop a production schedule

Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Duplessis portrait/Wikipedia)

You might be tempted to skip this part. Don’t! Having a detailed plan in place is extremely helpful to keep you on track and drive your results. Here’s how I do it: start with the speaking date and work backwards. Identify tasks and deadlines, including travel dates, onsite tech rehearsals, deadlines from the host organization, and rehearsals with presentation team members.

Remember what Benjamin Franklin said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

7. Research your audience

Now that you understand what is expected of you and what your timeline is, it’s time to learn about your audience. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who will be attending the conference or specifically your session?
  • What is their level of interest in your topic? Why do they care?
  • What do they already know?
  • What questions or concerns do they have?

Don’t just assume you know the answers; when possible, it pays to talk to potential members of your target audience to be sure you’ve got it right. If that isn’t an option, asking yourself these questions will help you to craft a powerful message and connect with your audience. Learn more: “Finding Common Ground With Your Audience.”

Once you’ve gathered all of this important information, actually crafting your message becomes much easier because you’ll have a plan for what you need to do. With that preparation in your pocket, you’ll be able to make your message resonate loud and clear. Benjamin Franklin would be proud!


Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at and

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