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Having organized industry and research-focused conferences for close to a decade now, I have had the pleasure of experiencing a number of different presentation styles, approaches and formats from the speakers we were lucky enough to have had participate on our events. These styles have ranged from data driven presentations and concepts to forward-thinking development approaches that the speakers were kind enough to share. However, it became clear to me that many invited speakers were not provided some basic guidance on the event format and expectations of a speaker, which resulted in mixed responses and feedback. Such basic guidance for both the most seasoned veterans on the speaker circuit, as well as new industry thought-leaders could provide game-changing results to the overall conference experience for attendees and participants, as well as future speakers in the making.

From a sharing of ideas perspective, TED events rule the roost. Speakers provide unique, outside-of-the-box concepts in a format which is personable and impactful. This is not always easy to replicate with drug development-focused speakers and organizations, but this does not mean we shouldn’t encourage it for the benefit of others.

This past November at our Controlled & Modified Drug Release, and Drug Delivery Strategy events in Philadelphia, we were lucky enough to be able to include two experts in the fields of their respective research ares, as well as presentation delivery styles. To say it was a pleasure to include Justin Hanes (John Hopkins University) and Steve Byrn (Purdue University) is an understatement. Hanes was the opening keynote and he didn’t disappoint. His talk “Breakthrough Innovations in the Next Generation of Drug Delivery: A New Thinking for Formulation Design” encompassed all of the qualities that great speakers possess; engagement, unique concepts, personable, impactful, concise, thought-provoking and above all, entertaining to the highest degree. Justin, thanks for giving our event a superb opening keynote which we could all draw from and relate to.

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I wanted to share some of my personal tips for all of our current and future speakers, as well as speakers participating on other events to consider. I have also made some comparisons to one of Steve Jobs killer presentations (Macworld Conference & Expo 2008) which we can all draw some pointers and inspiration from:

Talk Preparation:

  • The art of speaking is roughly 51% entertainment, 49% meaty content.
  • Ask yourself: When attendees return to work and speak about you and your presentation, what do you hope they will say? What key takeaways do you want them to gather from your talk?
  • Does your presentation title reflect the outcomes of what you are aiming to achieve?
  • Select a typeface appropriate for on-screen presentation.
  • Pictures speak a thousand words: Create visual slides.
  • Don’t be scared of sharing your opinions on a controversial subject; create a talk concept which encourages questions and thinking.
  • Don’t try to cover too much in one talk. Often the first 15 minutes are when your audience are most attentive and gain the most value from a talk.
  • Your talk is a story and you are the one who can tell it the best.
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

On-stage Etiquette:

  • Set the theme. “There is something in the air today.” With those words, Jobs opened Macworld. By doing so, he set the theme for his presentation (BusinessWeek.com, 1/15/08) and hinted at the key product announcement—the ultra thin MacBook Air laptop.
  • Don’t stray far from who you really are.
  • Demonstrate enthusiasm and engage. Encouraging audience interaction provides you with critical feedback during your talk
  • In the first 30 seconds you’ll do more to establish your presence on stage than just about any other part of the presentation.
  • Try for an unforgettable moment. This is the moment in your presentation that everyone will be talking about. Every Steve Jobs presentation builds up to one big scene. In 2008’s Macworld keynote, it was the announcement of MacBook Air. To demonstrate just how thin it is, Jobs said it would fit in an envelope. Jobs drew cheers by opening a manila interoffice envelope and holding the laptop for everyone to see. What is the one memorable moment of your presentation?
  • Sell the benefit. While most presenters promote product features, Jobs sells benefits.
  • Don’t remain behind the podium. Roam with a wireless microphone and hands-free slide advancer. This will keep attendees engaged and encourage audience interaction.

Questions Post Presentation:

  • Always repeat the question.
  • If the person asking the question has a puzzled look on their face when you’re done answering their question, ask this: “Now, what part of your question did I not answer?”
  • Pose questions to the audience. This will provide you with feedback and an insight into how your concepts were delivered and accepted with the attendees.

Try to use all of the techniques I describe above in your next presentation. You can e-mail us at info@curtiscoulter.com with your feedback or post a comment below. Whether planning an event to recruit speakers or preparing your next presentation for an event, I hope these pointers have been of value and let’s raise the bar of content delivery for future event attendees for the better.

Will you be the next “TED-esq” speaker at your next event?

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